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I’ve got a thing for maps, even this one

June 14 Larimer County Sheriff’s fire map. Click for the full size map (PDF)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by maps. Long before satellite imagery evolved, they provided overhead views of the world. I look at maps and imagine being there, standing on that mountaintop, hiking that trail, sailing up that coastline, riding across that prairie.

To me the best maps, the most detailed and interesting, have always been topo (topographic) maps like that above. Through them I see the terrain in my mind’s eye. There was a time when I had half a dozen of them stuffed in my pack whenever I was in the mountains. When I was away from the mountains, they took me back. Mounted on the wall, they were photos of my favorite places.

The map above, showing the area of Colorado’s High Park Fire, is both amazing and distressing. It’s a normal topo map, but overlays have been added to show and name every road in the area, every address and driveway, areas that have burned, and areas that still have heat of various intensities (as indicated from nighttime infrared aerial surveys). Pingree Park Road and the tangle of roads running north to south along the west side of the map is where the forest service is hoping to stop the fire. They are working east from there, trying to burn out areas between those roads and the advancing fire. Note the ruggedness of the terrain, the steepness of the slopes; this is no prairie fire. Aircraft are using ping pong ball technology to start the burnouts. The balls, filled with potassium permanganate, are injected with ethanol as they are dropped. The combined chemicals generate heat, melt the balls by the time they hit the ground, and ignite small fires in grass, pine needles, etc.

Click on the map to bring up the much larger PDF and see every detail, the kind of detail essential to firefighters. The fire itself is devastating and ongoing, but the technology and techniques being used to fight it are fascinating.

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