(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

B.C. wildfire app has alerts, bans and air quality ratings all in one place

App was installed more than 40,000 times in 2018, one of the worst years for wildfires

Former firefighter Aaron Kilback says his friends in the Okanagan Valley used to ask him for updates on campfire bans and active wildfires, and he figured it would be easier if the information was all in one place.

So, the Penticton man and app developer KC Dyer teamed up about four years ago to build a mobile app that compiles active fires and fire danger ratings, evacuation alerts, and air quality reports from the provincial fire service, Environment Canada and NASA.

“We’re just two guys who wanted the B.C. wildfire data accessible quickly on our phones,” says the description of the BC Wildfire app.

The app offers several different maps of wildfires in B.C., Alberta and the western U.S., an evacuation alert map, and a mashup of wildfires across western North America. Each fire is clickable, offering details including the size and estimated cause of the fire.

“People are used to opening an application and having the information optimized,” said Kilback, adding that all the same information is found on government webpages with extra steps, but this is more accessible on a cellphone when people are camping or out in the woods.

The number of users for the app varies throughout the year but it peaks during the summer months, said Dyer.

In 2018, one of the worst years for wildfires in B.C., Dyer said there were more than 40,000 installations.

More than 27,000 users have installed the app so far this year, he said.

READ MORE: B.C.’s 2019 forest fire season off to a slow, wet start

For Anthony Ettlinger, the app means he can keep track of where his wife, Leslie Ettlinger, is working. She’s an on-call firefighter at a local fire hall and has been deployed on structure protection several times.

Ettlinger, who lives outside Vernon, said the provincial wildfire service does a great job of posting information online for people using computers, but he’s had trouble loading the same information on his iPhone.

“(The app) gives me immediate access to the conditions near where I am.”

The Ettlingers moved to Canada from the U.K. in 2015 and quickly realized how prevalent and destructive wildfires can be in B.C.

“There was an actual wildfire that started not far from the house and we sort of watched in amazement as the bombers and helicopters and everybody went in,” said Ettlinger, who recently donated to the BC Wildfire app to help keep it running.

Dyer said he’s grateful it’s been a slow fire season since he and Kilback have been paying hundreds of dollars each month to keep the app running at its peak.

Last year, Google changed its pricing structure to provide a US$200 monthly credit equivalent to 28,000 free dynamic map loads.

In June, there were more than 60,000 BC Wildifre map loads, which cost them $336 after Google’s monthly credit was applied.

Kilback estimates the small team who set out to create the app has paid around $14,000 out of pocket to get the app built and to keep it running. Dyer continues to work on the app for free.

“We kept getting these emails about how much people loved it,” Kilback said. “We just wanted to keep at it. We didn’t want to give up on the idea.”

With more money, Kilback said they would like to add more features, like better options for uploading photos and reporting new wildfires and real-time communication between app users and B.C. firefighters.

“If we had really good information through the app that we could provide BC Wildfire Service that would help them triage and allocate resources to fires, that would be a huge benefit,” said Kilback, who fought wildfires in the Penticton area for four years.

He and Dyer have approached the BC Wildfire Service in 2017, offering to develop an official app if the fire service covered the costs. The province declined, saying it planned to develop its own mobile app, said Kilback.

Despite the setback, Kilback said he still has deep respect for the provincial fire service.

No one from the Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations, which oversees the BC Wildfire Service, was available for comment.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

BC Hydro reservoirs see record low levels across Vancouver Island

Hydro electric watersheds are at a third of their normal levels

Full buses leave Colwood woman fuming over commute from West Shore

BC Transit plans to add eight double-deckers in 2020, will rotate on 50 and 61 routes

Missing kids a common occurrence during large events, VicPD says

Children often reunited with parents quickly

Saanich councillor tries his hand at design with cycling T-shirt

Positive response has avid cyclist considering making more to share

B.C. Transit saves $300,000, scores 28 used fareboxes idle in California

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

VIDEO: John Lennon’s iconic Rolls Royce rolls into Camosun College for checkup

Royal BC Museum, Camosun College and Coachwerks Restorations come together to care for car

POLL: Will you be donating to charities over the holiday season?

Many here in Victoria joined others around the world to take part… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 3

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

VIDEO: Rockslide closes part of Highway 93 in Fairmont Hot Springs

Geotechnical team called in to do an assessment after rocks fell from hoodoos

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Canada sent 22 people, including 7 from B.C.

B.C. NDP touts the end of MSP premiums

Horgan, James held news conference to reiterate that people will get their last bill this month

Oscar Hickes: Longest running hockey tournament on Vancouver Island cancelled

Patrick Murray, one of the organizers for the tournament, broke the sad news on social media.

Most Read