Thursday, August 27, 2020

SearchResearch Challenge (8/27/20): Find a time-lapse MAP of wildfire growth in California?


As you probably know, 

... California is having what is probably the worst fire season in the past few centuries.  It's bad enough that I check the local Air Quality Index before I go outside to do anything active.  When the AQI get above 125, it definitely smells smoky, and above 150, you'll see small white ashes drifting down out of the heavy, scary, deep gray sky.  

While it's easy to get the news about the fires, and easy to find information about the CURRENT extent of the fires, it's a little harder to find a kind of time-lapse of fire growth over the past several days. 

Here's an image of the current fire map from ARCGIS

The current state of the wildfires in the Bay Area.  I'm in Palo Alto, at the X
marked near the bottom of the Bay on the west side. 

But there's no easy way to see what the fire was like 7 days ago.  Of course, I can take a screenshot every day and construct a time-lapse image of the fires. (I should have started on Day 1!)   That way I can see their rate of growth, their direction of growth, and spread.  

But it's not trivial to find such an animated map.  Can you help me with this week's SRS Challenge and locate one for us?  

1.  Can you find a time-lapse map of the growth of the current fires in the San Francisco Bay Area?  (Roughly, the area shown in the map above.)  Ideally, the animated map should go back to around August 16, 2020, the date the CZU Lightning Fire Complex was started by a sudden flurry of lightning strikes.

As always, let us know HOW you found the animated map?  What strategies did you use to find it?  

For the record, I have not yet found such a map.  We might have to make it on our own.  


Search on!  (And stay healthy. I now have two reasons to wear a good mask.)  


  1. [California fires 2020 map timelapse]

    California Fire Map & Tracker

    [california fires 2020 map day by day

    3 Live Maps : Where the wildfires are burning in California right now

    [California fires 2020]
    [California fires 2020 extent timelapse]

    NY Times

    [california fires 2020 satellite view timelapse]


    Not what we are looking for. Good maps.

    On Twitter, searched using #CaliforniaWildfires

    NOAA Then [#californiawildfires @NOAASatellitePA]

    A time-lapse


  2. Right source but not quite there yet: [natural hazards noaa]

    from that there is a link to the MODIS which has more almost the right stuff They call fire "MODIS Thermal Anomalies

    From there I gave up. Too technical for my brain cell.

  3. I believe I found it on Twitter

    They call it "Progression maps" the maps are toward the end and are dated.

    I followed a link on and found the map

  4. [Progression map] is the key. Here be another one

    1. This is awesome! Thanks.

      Do you remember the search you did to find this?

  5. This may already exists as maps from Argis for the same areas are on the Wayback machine.


    This one doesn't go back to the 16th - it starts on the 19th. Also it's showing the evacuation zone so the differences seem small. What worries me is the wind-speeds seem to be the same and differences appear small so maybe the script used to generate the maps was not recorded properly. Not knowing how this site works means I can't properly evaluate it without spending a lot more time to understand what the maps are indicating.

    There are maps for other dates - including the 16th August and earlier e.g. is for the 16th.

    1. Hi there! Interestingly, when I try these links, I get the old frame (i.e., from the 16th or 19th), but the fire data seems to be current. I suspect that the code is pulling from the live data stream, even if the web page is marked as Aug 16. (It's also incredibly slow.) Did you notice this as well?

    2. Yes - it was slow. And I was worried that the boundaries were the same. However there were small differences so I thought it was a reflection of the actual situation. (Such fires are weird to me in the UK so I've never looked at such maps before. Makes it harder to know what I'm seeing).

      However there is a lesson anyway - it's always worth checking the Wayback machine for something that's regularly changing. It works for Covid-19 cases for example at But also to wary if it includes some sort of live database feed.

  6. This was the top hit on my search of [CZU fire animation]

  7. I found one ... kinda-sorta.

    I live near where Dan lives, so I already had a collection of fire maps. One has a widget at the bottom that lets you progress over the days. I decided to try to reverse engineer the situation and try to find what I already had.

    I started with [california fire map multi-day] and other variants on the last term (including "tracker" which Google itself suggested but which seems to equate to "real-time" in practice). I clicked into several of the search results, many of which were familiar but none of which had the day-picking widget I was looking for.

    So I cheated. I brought up my browser window with all of my fire tabs and found the right one. It was , and I noticed for the first time that on loading the page it animated through all the days in the display widget. Even closer to what Dan was looking for than I'd realized! So I went back to my search results and looked for this site, a page from the local newspaper San Francisco Chronicle. I found that all of my searches had come up with the parent page from the Chron. But now the page, , has a different mechanism for picking what fire you want to look at, and there's no longer the day-picker at the bottom. The page I had saved seems to be an obsolete child page that corresponds to the fire closest to me, and that has some functionality that the uber-page no longer supports.

    The search lessons that I take from this are
    (a) hoarding is a good thing, and
    (b) sites change, and something that used to be there last week might not be there anymore. Perhaps Dan can address how to deal with delving into the history of webpages.

  8. I think this is a progression map too: