Saturday, June 18, 2011

How social media helped out run a fire

Well, this last week has been interesting, to say the least. Most of my on-line attention has been focused on the Monument Fire down by my parent's house in Southern Arizona. Being 2500 miles away makes it hard to get good information, but luckily, I found an AMAZING Facebook page that kept me in the loop. (And here a quick shout out to the administrators of the Monument Fire Az page- they have done a great job keeping the page up to date and minimizing rumors). There was also a Twitter hashtag #monumentfire, but Twitter doesn't appear to be real big in the small town.

My mom has refused to get on Facebook and watch this for herself. She has a Facebook account, but for whatever reason, refuses to use. She was getting emails from friends, but obviously it wasn't as quick and timely as what was occurring on Facebook.

On Thursday, I watched as the fire jumped a main highway and headed for several of my parent's friends homes. I was able to call my mom and let her know that her friends had been evacuated. I was also able to let them know which direction the fire was going and so forth.

Friday rolled around and it was much of the same. As I monitored the fire, it continued moving east, not north toward my parents. This was all good. Some of their friends were in a new pre-evacuation zone, but nothing had really changed. The fire was still concentrated (as much as a 19,000 acre fire can be concentrated) areas where the homes had lots of land- not subdivisions.

About 5pm my time (which is about 2pm for my parents), I was on the phone with my mom and started seeing reports of a new fire that had started on Fort Huachuca. This fire was less than 2 miles from my parents- and it quickly became obvious that it was out of control and moving east straight toward my parent's subdivision. Because my mom was already wound tighter than a high-E string on a violin, I asked to talk to my dad. Well, at that moment he was coming back in from outside and commenting that there was a lot of smoke over to the west. So, I told them about the new fire and that I was waiting for more information.

Well, at this point, the Facebook page started to go crazy. The fire was moving quickly and even though the fire response team was jumping on it, dry grass and high winds meant the fire was growing. Within about 40 minutes of the fire starting, evacuations were starting about 1 mile from my parents house. These people had NO notice and only about 3 minutes to gather everything they wanted to take with them and get out. They were told "Get out. Get out now. We are not kidding. The fire is coming." At this point, my mom called me to say there were attempting to take donations to the fire station, but saw how bad the smoke was and decided to just stay home. I told her at this point where the evacuations were occurring and that they needed to go home and get their stuff together.

I then heard from my mom about 15 minutes later as she called me and asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted them to save from the house. That is not something you ever really want to think about. She said they were loading the car up and getting ready. I couldn't think of anything, but told her to take her iPod and start walking around and videoing the house as documentation.

I continued to watch the Facebook page and the evacuations were growing, as was the fire. The new evacuations included their area- they needed to get out NOW! This was about 6:15pm my time- about 75 minutes after the fire started. There was talk that air tankers were going to be diverted from the main fire to this new fire (called the Antelope Fire) to drop slurry to attempt to save the subdivisions. I called my parent's house and got no answer. So, I tried my mom's cell phone. It went immediately to voice mail. Ok- I started freaking a little bit about now.

I remained GLUED to the Facebook page and saw many people saying that cell service in the area was overloaded and service was also bad due to the heavy smoke in the area. That helped me calm down a little. I also know my father and while he is easily one of the most stubborn people around, he wouldn't take any chance with my mom and their 2 dogs and cat. The Facebook page continued to be updated with new information with people talking about how they had no notice of the evacuation and had to leave everything behind. I was thankful that I knew my parents were able to get some of their things out.

Finally after about 30 minutes my mom called me. I could hear one pissed-off cat in the background. They were out and hanging at the city park with other evacuees. They were going to wait it out there for a while and had a friend's house to go to if needed. They knew nothing and had no way to get information- they were just winging it at this point. I told her I would keep watching online and would pass on information as needed.

Facebook was updating frequently with information on the percent of the fire contained and other information- such as the gas company had shut off all gas to their area. I called her with information as I got it and I could hear her passing it on to everyone else with them. They had no other information coming in. Finally, about 8:20 my time, I saw on Twitter that a news channel had reported the evacuation was lifted. There was actually no way to verify this online (I had tried and was told the only reliable sources were calling the sheriff or police). I called and, sure enough, they could go back home. I called my mom in the park and let her know and she told everyone there. This was the first they had heard the news. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of cheering!

So my parents headed home- and thankfully they had a home to go to. I hate to think how this would have gone without social media. I have no doubt that they would have gotten out of their home- but would they have had the time to be able to pack things or would they also have had those 3 small minutes (180 seconds) to pack up. And what would I have known from 2500 miles away? It's very possible I wouldn't have even know what was going on. And how would they have known that they could go home. I am so thankful for that Facebook page and how it was getting information out to everyone who needed it.

Also, I just wanted to thank everyone who passed along such wonderful words of support to me yesterday- it was a very rough evening and the support of all my friends meant so much to me!


  1. Social media is amazing! I am so glad they are all right. I will continue to pray for the area and your family!

  2. It is absolutely the way we get all sorts of information! Glad they are fine- was Praying for them!

  3. Social media is amazing! Thank goodness you aren't too stubborn to use it and could pass along the information to your parents! The Monument AZ Fire Page sounds like it helped a great deal of people and not just those in the immediate area. What an awesome resource!!

  4. I am glad both my folks are at least using apps to check news, etc on their iPhones! Not social media yet but baby steps!