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Wildfire information app expands to Oregon

Person in a kayak in a lake. A forest is in the background. Wildfire smoke is visible from behind the ridge.
Andy Lyon
USDA Forest Service
Waldo Lake was threatened by 2022's Cedar Creek Fire.

A California nonprofit company has introduced an app that allows people to monitor wildfires in their area.

Watch Duty was launched two years ago as a response to the active 2020 summer wildfire season in northern California.

“I realized that finding information [about specific wildfires] was nearly impossible,” said John Mills, Watch Duty’s CEO. “I relied on a bunch of strangers on Facebook and Twitter, who are radio scanners and reporters and people who listen to first responders actually fighting fire and that’s where I found the real information.”

Mills worked in the tech industry and thought he could develop a service that pulled together various sources of information and routed them to people who need it most. He developed a network of volunteers who continually monitor radio traffic and other sources and share what they learn with people who download the app.

“It’s a really interesting bunch of people. A lot of them have been in the service before. They’re active and retired first responders, dispatchers, firefighters and these folks are, even the retired ones, in their 60s or 70s, this is what their life’s work is,” Mills said. “Finding Watch Duty has been amazing for them. Now they have this community to work with and disseminate this information and continue being relevant and save lives.”

Mills says Watch Duty is to pull together information they gather and push it out to people so they only have to pay attention to one source.

He says his company serves all of California. This month, the app expanded its service to several Western states, including Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

“You download it. You don’t need to give us your email or password, no nothing. It’s a non-profit. We don’t want your information,” Mills said. “Pick a county to listen to and you put it in your pocket and you forget about it.”

If something in your chosen county happens, you’ll get a notification. Mills says users can choose to receive alerts from multiple counties.

“We’ve found people in your area who have 20,000, 30,000, 100,000 followers in these groups. The same thing is happening everywhere. So we just find these folks and say hey, we’ve been looking for you for a long time. We have amazing tools. Do you want to join our volunteer army? And they say yes,” he said.

Mills says Watch Duty has about a half million registered users in California and expects that number will continue to grow as people learn about the service as it expands to other states.

This story was originally published by Spokane Public Radio and is used with permission

Doug Nadvornick