Viral marketing news and other viral happenings in Denver Metro, Boulder and beyond.
This month I am going to dedicate Rocky Mountain Viral to the victims of the Fourmile Canyon fire in Boulder, my hometown. The fact that no one died in the most destructive fire in the state’s history is a testament to the professionalism and hard work of the many firefighters and rescue workers involved, but social media has played an important role during and after the fire as well.
On the morning of Monday, September 6th, my wife called on her way back from the gym to tell me that a fire had broken out west of Boulder. I checked news sources and found nothing, so I decided to head up to open space and take a look. Here was my reaction to what I saw:
Before my tweet and less than an hour after the fire had broken out, conversation about the fire was well under way on Twitter. People were using the hashtag #boulderfire to identify their tweets. Like many people, I spent the afternoon nervous about how much the fire would spread and concerned for friends that live in the canyons west of town. News media was slow with updates at first, but sources like CU instructor Sandra Fish, grad student Amanda Pingel and resident Andrew Hyde were right on top of what was happening. Fish was listening to the Boulder County police scanner and following other sources and tweeting real-time updates. Pingel created a collaborative Google Map of the area with the fire perimeter marked out and people were posting photos and other info to the map by Monday afternoon. By Tuesday, uber-social Andrew Hyde had created a mashup of social coverage of the fire on his blog.
There has been some debate about whether the news media should have been providing more real-time coverage. Like most people, I looked to the Boulder Daily Camera, the Denver Post and other media channels for information in addition to my social media sources, and to be fair they were updating news frequently, if not as real-time as the Twitter stream. In any case, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and numerous blogs kept me and many others informed. And we could ask questions, send our good wishes and feel part of what was happening in a way that traditional news media does not allow.
As events were unfolding, I had several offers in Facebook and Twitter of places for me and my family to stay if we were evacuated, though we were well away from the evacuation zone. People I hadn’t heard from in years came out of the woodwork offering help and expressing concern. And we, too, offered our support and help to friends. Many people in the community opened their homes to strangers, and I know first-hand of several new friendships that were formed during the fire. It is not to say that these things couldn’t have happened without social media, communities have banded together in crisis for time immemorial, but my experience was that the Internet played a role in most of these connections. I suppose one thing that’s changed is that our network of human connections is much larger than it once would have been. The “community” that has helped during and after the fire includes people from all over the metro area and beyond.
While the fire was still raging, local technology firm Sparkplace launched the Fourmile Fire Help Forum, where people could find or offer a place to stay or food or supplies. It has also become a clearinghouse of information for people trying to navigate the aftermath of the disaster, with topics like “Insurance Help and Issues” and “Animal Help”.
Another community effort that has pulled together blazingly fast is the 4 Mile Community Store. The store takes donations of clothing, furniture, housewares and other goods and provides them to people affected by the fire. It was organized by a moderator of the Boulder Rock’n Moms Yahoo Group. She’s spread the word about the store to the group’s 2,500 members, who have spread it throughout the community. My wife heard about the store through the group, and she and my daughter volunteered there last weekend. The store could use more volunteers and they’ve also got a list of things they need on the site, if you have anything to donate.
I would like to list the many other organizations and people who have helped or need help after the fire, but there are just too many. It is inspiring to see how people have stepped up, in small and large ways. I have focused on the positive things that happened for me and the community as a result of the fire, but I don’t mean to downplay the tragedy of the event. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a home and all the memories inside so completely to such devastation. Those of us who were not affected are very fortunate, and we all owe a great debt to the men and women who worked day and night battling the fire.
Here are some good sources I found on the topics of social media and the fire:
- Columbia Journalism Review – Tweeting a Wildfire
- Denver Post – Evacuees use social media to keep up on Boulder wildfire disaster developments
- Politics Daily – Colorado’s Fourmile Canyon Fire: When Community — and Twitter — Matter
- Andrew Hyde – Fourmile Canyon Fire 2010
- KWGN Denver – Harness The Power Of Social Media In A Disaster
- Huffington Post – Boulder Fire Stokes Community Through Social Media
- Colorado Public Radio – Fourmile Fire Highlights Social Media’s Value
- Orange Insights – Community During Crisis: What Governments can learn from the Boulder Community’s usage of Social Media during the Boulder Fire
If you’d like to help in some way yourself, check the How You Can Help forum on the Fourmile Help Forum site.