A map of the Butte fire created by UC Merced researchers as a way to help spread information to those affected by the blaze has been viewed more than 35,000 times, according to the team.
Erin Mutch, manager of the UC Merced Spatial Analysis and Research Center, said Monday the number of people consulting the map has continued to climb since it went live on Sept. 10.
To track the fire, which has burned more than 70,000 acres in Calaveras County, the center uses a variety of data sources such as satellite imaging, social media and reports from fire officials, Mutch said. The goal was to offer the general public an easy-to-read source of current information.
“We’re looking to find services for research and (to benefit) the public,” she said. “This is an example of what we can do.”
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The map shows more than just the location of the fire. It also tells people where to leave donations, what donations are needed and where to find evacuation centers. It also compares the fire to past blazes, like the Old Gulch fire from 1992 and the Mason fire from 1988.
While we were evacuated, it was just about the best source of information, the most up-to-date, I found.
Steve Elliott, 49, of Avery
The map was a comfort to Steve Elliott, who had to leave the area with his wife and dogs when evacuations were ordered. He said it was frustrating trying to get any information on the blaze. Then he found a link to the UC Merced map.
“While we were evacuated, it was just about the best source of information, the most up-to-date, I found,” the 49-year-old said.
Elliott said his home in Avery, which is toward the southeastern edge of the fire, escaped damage. He’s since been allowed back in.
The UC Merced research center – which is nicknamed SPARC – works on a range of projects that develop mapping by gathering information, Mutch said. Two current examples include maps designed from ancient Chinese maps and rainfall in Africa.
“We want to show the public that mapping is important,” she said.
Back in Calaveras County, the Butte fire appears to be winding down.
The two-week-old fire, which has scorched 70,760 acres and destroyed more than 500 homes, was more than 70 percent contained as of Monday. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said his agency is investigating with the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. the possibility that the fire ignited when a tree branch hit a power line.
70,760 acres Estimated size of Butte fire
Crews working with search dogs continued to comb the area to look for possible victims from the fire’s path.
In Calaveras County, officials have identified two people who died in the blaze. Officials have not said whether the two men killed in the flames were contacted about the evacuation order or why they were still in the area when the fire came through.
PG&E officials posted a statement on the company’s website last week saying the utility company is cooperating with Cal Fire in finding the source of the Butte fire – which may involve one of its power lines.
“While we don’t have all the facts yet, a live tree may have contacted a PG&E line in the vicinity of the ignition point,” said Barry Anderson, PG&E vice president of emergency preparedness and operations. “We don’t know if a tree making contact with our line caused the fire. That will be the subject of the Cal Fire investigation, and these types of investigations take time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.