As wildfires continue to tear through parts of California and Colorado, Google has launched new tools to help people stay informed about their progress. Starting today, Google search queries for information about the fires will turn up more than just news stories and alerts — they’ll also display maps of the fires’ boundaries. The Google Maps app will display the same wildfire boundaries to people attempting to enjoy the height of summer nearby, and will also provide warnings and “ambient alerts” to those who begin to approach affected areas.
But here’s the most important part: That crucial fire map information is being updated hourly. To make sure people get the most accurate view possible, Google has been using its Google Earth Engine’s analytics tools to monitor imagery provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s four GOES satellites. Those satellites can’t directly “see” the flames, but they can see the prodigious plumes of smoke those flames produce, along with the sizable thermal hotspots that signify areas of intense fire activity.