Want to see where wildfires are spreading? Google just launched a tool to track them

As wildfires spread across the West, Google created a tool to help keep people informed and safe.

Google launched a wildfire boundary map in Search and Maps on Thursday in the U.S., the company said.

“In moments like a growing wildfire, knowing exactly where a blaze is underway and how to avoid it is critical,” Google said in a news release. “Using satellite data to create a wildfire boundary map, people will now see the approximate size and location right on their phone or desktop.”

When someone searches for a wildfire in search, they will see the fire’s boundary, name and location, and they will also be given news articles and information from local first responders, the company said.

On Google Maps, people can see the same details, as well as the fire boundary and can be notified if they are “approaching an active blaze.”

The tool can show the size of a wildfire in real time, and data will be refreshed hourly, Google said.

How does it work?

The tool uses satellite data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) satellites and Google Earth Engine’s data analysis, Google said.

“NOAA’s satellites include infrared and optical sensors optimized for detecting ‘hot spots’ or large wildfires on the Earth’s surface,” the company said. “We run computations on this data in Earth Engine to identify the affected area.”

Google then used that data to “create a digital polygon,” which shows approximately where the fire is spreading. If there are multiple fires, people could see more than one polygon, according to Google.

Why does it matter?

The National Interagency Fire Center has predicted this year has above-normal fire risks across the U.S.

In California, more than 23 major fires and 367 total fires are burning, according to CNN. The LNU Lightning Complex Fire has spread through the North Bay area and has scorched more than 131,000 acres, The Sacramento Bee reported.

A new wildfire forecast in Idaho also shows “alarming predictions for the future frequency of large fires in Idaho counties,” the Idaho Statesman reported.

“This isn’t some far-off thing,” climate activist Jon Leland told the Statesman. “The risks of these giant wildfires are really terrifying. They’re the ones that kill people and destroy things. It’s a very scary reality that we’re going to be facing.”

Google said that in recent fires, it saw that wildfires were expanding rapidly and “putting thousands of people at risk.”

“We were able to launch our SOS alerts, with the latest boundary map, on Search and Google Maps,” Google said. “Last year, we piloted this feature in Search for major California wildfires to confirm it was a useful tool for first responders, emergency management personnel and the community.”