How tweets can map a #wildfire

The photo Alicia Santana tweeted of her father using #MendocinoCompexFire

At the end of July, Twitter user Alicia Santana posted a photo of a man sitting in a plastic folding chair in his yard. He’s looking away from the camera, towards a monstrous, orange cloud of smoke filling the sky beyond a wire fence. “My dad not wanting to leave his home,” Santana wrote, ending it with #MendocinoComplexFire.

As wildfires spark, parts of the Internet glow with them. The #CarrFire, #FergusonFire, #RanchFire and other hashtags spread quickly this summer on Twitter. If past seasons are any indication, there will be thousands more tweets like this, and they will continue as smoke — the insidious second wave of wildfires — spreads across the West. They can also be used for data. In a recently published study, U.S. Forest Service researchers Sonya Sachdeva and Sarah McCaffrey found that, when analyzed in large numbers, tweets about wildfires can accurately model the way smoke moves.

ISS056 image of smoke from the Carr fire in northern California

ISS056 image of smoke from the Carr fire in northern California.

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