Ahead Of The Fire by USA Today

To investigate the threat from wildfire to communities across the West, The Arizona Republic and USA TODAY carried out a level of analysis usually reserved for academics and scientists. We analyzed and mapped U.S. Forest Service data that weighs 65 wildfire risk factors – topography, precipitation, vegetation, previous fires, among many others – and rates each 18-acre parcel nationwide for fire hazard.

This is where most journalistic investigations of the topic typically end. But because of what we saw in Paradise, California's deadly 2018 blaze, we went further. We used Census data to identify smaller, more-vulnerable communities, measured each community's evacuation routes, and found the age of its residents, the share with disabilities, percentage of mobile homes, and participation in the cellular emergency alert system. We did this for about 5,000 communities across 11 states.

The challenge was to present the wealth of findings based on this complex analysis – that 526 small communities across the region faced a wildfire potential greater than Paradise – in a way that readers would easily understand. Combining graphics with traditional storytelling allowed readers to comprehend complex ideas before diving into deep analysis. We also built a lookup page that lets users examine any community for themselves. The visuals themselves represent an interesting use of design and technology in the service of journalism. We used code to recreate and verify the analysis, aiding early visualization and prototyping. These rough representations were refined by hand, and then rendered again using code. These graphics were then imported into an animation and finalized before being exported as scalable vector graphics and controlled by code in the browser. By combining these layers, we were able to take advantage of the diverse skills of many team members while communicating clearly to our readers.

Learn more about this project and its many contributors here: https://www.azcentral.com/in-depth/news/local/arizona-wildfires/2019/07/22/wildfire-risks-ahead-of-the-fire-about-this-report/1784203001/

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