The first fire I ever followed in blog form was the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire in 2002.
A local woman, a Show Low Arizona web designer offered a running update of the fire based on information from a scanner and friends who phoned her with first hand updates. She may have been the first incident blogger. Her constant updates were picked up by the major newspapers in Arizona including the Arizona Republic in Phoenix and the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. I followed her updates every waking hour of the day. I had a family member on the fire and wanted to know what he was up against.
A new form of reporting emergencies was born and it found an instant audience. Incident blogging then became the domain of individual bloggers posting links and maps of major wildfires. Pre-2007 it was easy pickings for bloggers. Blogs trumped the newspapers. By the time the newsrooms were filing their evening or morning feature their info was old news.
In 2007 newspaper media woke up to the fact readers wanted more than the once or twice daily article or feature dedicated to a local fire.
There are probably other examples but for me the bridge was crossed with coverage of the Angora Fire by The Tahoe Daily Tribune. They didn’t call their updates a blog but it was a blog. It was a preview of things to come.
When the Witch and Harris Fires scorched San Diego last Fall area newspapers began blogging. Newspapers bring journalists, supporting IT staff, including photographers, videographers and editors to a story.
Another example is how the L.A. Times covered the Santiago Canyon and Big Bear fires last fall. Their fire coverage and fire blogging efforts are superior.
Fast forward to 2008 and the Summit Fire above Santa Cruz. The Mercury News hit their ‘incident’ blogging stride with coverage of the Summit Fire offering maps, photos, and interviews backed by good journalistic instinct.
Newspapers own the high ground of incident blogging now.
Individual bloggers are relegated to the niche stories surrounding these fires. Bloggers like me who follow major incidents still have an advantage of instant publishing. Breaking news is indexed quickly by Google, often within minutes. This is a small window where independent bloggers can beat the mainstream folks to the news. The initial attack phase of a major fire is the most interesting to me so I’ll concentrate on that when I can.
Honestly the initial attack and the first 24 hours of a fire was the only part of firefighting that was really fun to me. Nothing compares with responding to the unknown, arriving on a running fire, self deploying on scene and kicking butt.
Few things in life compare to that kind of adrenaline rush.
Generally after the first day it becomes predictable as resources file in and an incident base takes shape. If you are a line officer or firefighter you are assigned to a division building line, running a crew, laying fire hose, mopping up or providing structure protection.
The incident command team pulls out maps and start plotting a course of action based on experience and fire science.
Unless you are in on the planning or assigned to an active division it can get monotonous in a hurry. The further away you get from the incident base the more more boring it gets. There are guys and gals that love to build hand line for days and miles but not me. Been there and done that.
Same with blogging fires. Once the initial attack phase has been concluded and potential for further property damage has been mitigated I’m generally done.
If I’m a Fast Attack Craft, then newspapers are an Aircraft Carrier with a full carrier group deployed in support on day two. Their big guns in the form of a half dozen or more reporters arrive and dispurse, combing the fire ground and incident base to paint a more complete picture.
As incident blogging evolves I expect to see more firefighters blogging from the scene. Mobile blogging allows this (i.e. Raleigh’s blog), publishing photos and video to Flickr and video blogging via Youtube and the many Youtube clones have not been fully exploited. I don’t know why this hasn’t become popular considering most crews that are made up of smart, computer savvy young people.
The best new tool on the web for instant communication is Twitter. I would add/follow the “Twits” of any firefighter posting from a major incident.
As this summer progresses I intend to blog fires as they break and until the initial threat has diminished. Once major media establishes their incident blogs I’ll link to them while looking deeper for local blogger perspective and firsthand firefighter accounting’s.
I’m not done here, just being flexible as times dictate.