I was reading Louis Gray this morning and he had a great post on the Humboldt fire in Northern California: The Web Offers a Window Into Paradise's Burning. He had a link to this PDF map of the homes that had burned:
The home depicted with the red arrow is my in-law's. They have been evacuated from their home since last Thursday and have not been allowed to return.
What I find interesting about this is that the best information on the fire is coming from bloggers and other citizens. The coverage by the local paper, the Chico Enterprise Record, has been nothing compared to that provided by citizens themselves. This is a major disaster for the area, but the paper just doesn't have the staff to cover it adequately. They do have a bunch of photos that people have uploaded which are quite interesting. Cal-Fire also has uploaded photos to Flickr. Ah, if only more government agencies would use these freely available services to share information...
This is just but one example of why Internet throttling and metered charges are such a bad idea. We do not want to create a situation where people have to think twice before posting this type of information. This is really important.
I will note that my in-laws didn't know the status of their own home. They are in a Red Cross shelter and are hungry for information. One of their strategies to determine if their home had been lost was to call the home and see if the answering machine was working (that's a use for a land line that I'd never considered). This worked for a time until the emergency services folks turned off the power to the area. So, we learned from the Internet that their home was indeed not damaged, but we also learned that several of their neighbors were not so fortunate.
The Internet is way too important to have our telcos and cable companies messing around where they don't belong.
UPDATE: My in-laws were allowed to return to their home. At one point, they were told that their home had been lost. Several hours later they were told that this was not the case. The fire had burned right up to the house, however. They have lots to be thankful for this evening.