Google on Thursday said it will give people more information on wildfires when they search for them on the tech giant’s home page and maps app, an update that comes as California and Colorado battles blazes raging across their states.
The company is adding maps that outline the boundaries of a wildfire, as well as any road closures in the area. The new information will be triggered by searches such as “California wildfire” or specific names like “Marsh fire,” the wildfire raging through the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Google Maps app will also warn people if they are approaching a fire.
The wildfire information features will be available throughout the US, but they are particularly timely in Google’s home state of California. Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this week declared a state of emergency as the fires spread, after Northern California was hit with a heat wave and lightning storms. Authorities in the region ordered residents to evacuate several counties. In Colorado, several wildfires, including the Pine Gulch and Grizzly Creek fires, are burning throughout the state.
“This information is potentially life and death,” Ryan Gallaher, an engineer on Google’s search and crisis response team, told reporters during a press briefing. He said Google worked with officials in California and Colorado to make sure the service was “helping users more than potentially harming them.”
Google piloted similar features in its search results during last year’s California wildfires but is now expanding their reach. The company said it’s using data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s, or NOAA, as well as other satellite imagery, to create the wildfire maps and update them hourly.
Using technology to track the fires also comes with its pitfalls, though. Many of the blazes are taking place in rural areas where broadband connections can be spotty, so map updates may not come to those who need them if their internet signals aren’t strong enough.
Google could also work with California state officials beyond the map features. The company has had discussions with the governor’s office about embedding Google employees in its state operation center to be better connected with those teams, said Abby Browning of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
“The best thing to calm everyone is information,” Browning said of Google’s map features. “It gives people more of a sense of control of what’s going on around them.”