As the Boulder sky started to fill with smoke, Boulder residents, local organizations and journalists began to tweet.

Twitter became primary Boulder fire information source

Searching the hashtag #boulderfire on Twitter yields instant, up-to-the-second, information from people and organizations directly involved with the Fourmile Canyon fire.

As the Boulder sky started to fill with smoke, Boulder residents, local organizations and journalists began to tweet.

Tweets varied. Under the common hashtag #Boulderfire, news organizations, as well as emergency organizations and individuals, tweeted Red Cross information, evacuation information, maps of road closings, health advice, pictures of the fire, and outreach to human and animal victims of the fire.

Sandra Fish, or @fishnette, a journalism instructor at the CU, said she sat on her computer early Monday morning grading papers and was about to write about Bristol Palin appearing on “Dancing with the Stars,” when she realized that it smelt like smoke in her basement.

“There was nothing on the local news sites, so I turned on the scanner,” Fish said.

Fish began to post scanner updates on Twitter, simplifying the information that she heard. She immediately gained Twitter followers, and various Twitter uses reposted (or retweeted) her posts.

Joseph Schusler, a 20-year-old junior advertising major, said he pulled out his phone and began to Twitpic photos, as the flames neared his house.

“I’m super interested in journalism,” Schusler said. “I kind of tried to see what Twitter could do.”

Schusler said he previously used Twitter to write about mountain biking because he’s on the Yeti Cycles World Cup Team.

He also said he was surprised by the outreach on Twitter.

“I think for the masses [Twitter] is the easiest way to see everything,” he said. “I think it is one of the most efficient ways to view the information.”

He also said that his pictures were constantly reposted.

Kristen Asmus, or @Colo_kea, who is the communications editor at the Geological Society of America and a graduate of CU’s journalism school with a master’s degree in journalism, said she followed Fish’s coverage of the fire, as well as Project EPIC’s or @epiccolorado .

“I was watching the news and got frustrated because I knew more than they did,” Asmus said. “They didn’t pick up on what was being tweeted about.”

She also said that she was frustrated by the lack of information on the local news.

“Yesterday, I didn’t do too much else [but tweet],” she said. “There were deputies and animal control officers out there working. I worried about them. I made several tweets just thanking them. Animal control officers worked their butts off.”

Kim Sporrer, the director of communications at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley @HumaneBoulder, said that the Humane Society has been reaching out to people through Twitter.

“We have a lot of people who follow us who are pet loves,” Sporrer said. “Twitter is a great way to clear up miscommunication and answer questions. We are currently housing about 40 animals: dogs, cats and one parakeet. We are still accepting animals, and we are coordinating with Longmont Humane Society. We are full, but we aren’t turning anyone down.”

The Humane Society of Boulder Valley tweeted that they needed cat litter, towels, blankets and donations, and received donations quickly, Sporrer said.

Sporrer also said that a woman brought her cats over and saw that they needed help, so she and her partner helped all day.

Jessica Ryan, or @Ickaickaicka, a 19-year-old sophomore media studies major, said that she saw smoke when she was coming home from breakfast on Monday.

“The second I got home, I went on Twitter,” Ryan said. “I knew that was where I would find the most information.”

She also said that she always uses Twitter for breaking news. Like Asmus, she also said that she is frustrated by the coverage of local news sources.

“I’ve heard that the television crews are dramatizing and putting a spin on the story,” she said. “On Twitter, people are saying what they know. They are listening to the scanner.”

Laura Levy, or @laurasrecipes, a Boulder blogger and the creator of the website laurasbestrecipes.com, said she also has been using Twitter since the fire started.

“We knew immediately it would be bad from the winds,” Levy said. “In Boulder, there are a lot of people who believe in social media, a young, savvy group. A lot of people are using the hashtag #Boulderfire. If people want to understand what is going on, they have to use that feed.”

Levy also said that she’s been following the tweets of @Epiccolorado, @wind4me, @fishnette and @andrewhyde .

On Fish, Levy said, “not everyone has time to listen to the scanner all day- her tweets are fantastic.”

She also said that the Google Maps created have been amazing, which have mapped out houses that have been created or destroyed, as well as road closures.

She also said that Twitter is a great resource for people wanting to know the news.

“Use Twitter, as well as the TV,” she said. “Just be on it to listen. You don’t need to tweet.”

She said that she’s impressed by the Boulder community’s response on Twitter to the fire.

“This community has an amazing outpour to help out,” she said. “When [the fire] started, people responded so quickly.”

Schusler said he agreed that he is impressed by the community response.

“Everyone had a big reaction to what I was bringing into the situation,” he said. “My friend had never seen or used [Twitter]. He was impressed by it. He also lost his house. He was blown away by how up-to-date and live it is.”

Contact CU Independent Social Media Outreach Editor Sara Juliet Fruman at Sara.fruman@colorado.edu.

About CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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2 comments

  1. There was a lot to be learned from this fire – for instance, how quickly the community adopted the #boulderfire tag, and how the most useful resources seemed to win over the less useful ones – kind of a survival of the fittest. I also think there is a place for on-the-fly sites to aggregate social media resources (for example I created a page at http://allhazards.blogspot.com/2010/09/colorado-wild-fire-resources.html) which got many hits, and made people aware of other resources like the Google maps and audio scanner feeds.

  2. There is a discussion about this and a list of other articles discussing the use of Twitter and social media in this fire at http://allhazards.blogspot.com/2010/09/four-mile-canyon-wildfire-and-social.html

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