Thursday, February 15, 2018

Mapping a Californian Wildfire


In January the Thomas Fire burned around 281,893 acres, becoming the largest wildfire in modern California history. The Los Angeles Times has used WebGL to visualize the spread of the fire and the damage it caused. The Thomas Fire: 40 Days of Devastation is a story map which provides a day-by-day account of the spread of the fire and its effect on Californian neighborhoods.

The LA Times visualization uses a WebGL powered 3d model of the area affected by the fire. Enhanced satellite imagery of the area has been overlaid on top of an elevation terrain model. The terrain and satellite imagery are very effective in visualizing both the size of the fire and the damage it caused.

A story map format has also been used to help explain the development of the fire and to highlight some of the areas most effected by the fire. As you progress through the story map you are told how the fire developed day-by-day, while the 3d map zooms in on different locations to highlight neighborhoods which suffered significant property damage.


WebGL can be a very effective way to visualize environmental damage or change. Satellite imagery overlaid on top of a 3d digital elevation model can provide the user with an easily recognizable representation of familiar terrain. You can view other effective examples in this post on WebGL models of potential rising sea levels.
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