Who Watches the Fires?

The Watch Duty app helps the general public track wildfires in their area. 

With all the wildland fires tearing up Oregon, it can be dizzying to accurately track everything. Maybe it is all the smoke we have been inhaling in the last couple of weeks, but tracking fires has been nauseating. 

This is where the app Watch Duty comes in. 

Since its launch on Aug. 11, 2021, Watch Duty allows the general public to track nearby wildfires by simply inputting their zip code. Watch Duty is the brainchild of CEO John Mills, who was inspired to launch the app because of the fire prone area where he lives.

Mills lives in Sonoma County in northern California and has dealt with nearby wildfires in the past. “After almost losing my ranch a couple of times, you start to realize that someone’s got to do something about this problem. If I am going to continue living here, I’m going to not only help myself, I am going to help other people,” Mills tells Eugene Weekly in a phone call. 

In order to get the information about the fires to the public, Watch Duty has volunteer reporters who listen in to the radios from the fire line and relay that information onto the app. The result is information about the fire straight from the fire line. It doesn’t need to be sent through official channels before being sent to the general public, which makes information get out much faster. 

“Lake County [California], north of us, burned to the ground a couple of times,” Mills says. “And so a couple of minutes after the fire starts, we give them the first alert. Seventeen minutes later, the government says, ‘Hey, there is a fire here.’ We are going to alert people, we don’t care if it is big or small,” Mills says.

Take the Lookout Fire up the McKenzie River, for example. When you select it on the app, it shows you how many acres it is, the containment level, fire status, as well as evacuation warnings and notes, all in real time. The app sends you notifications when new fires start, and alerts you if you need to evacuate. 

Updates on Watch Duty come from volunteers and staff who are both local to the fires and across the world. They include active and retired firefighters, first responders and dispatchers, as well as people who became active in fire monitoring after surviving a wildfire. Late night updates might come from someone in Oregon or as far away as New Zealand.

Watch Duty is available at no charge on Google Play and the App Store and currently serves over 1 million users, according to Mill. A web version of the app also exists, allowing you to track fires on any device. 

More information can be found at WatchDuty.org

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