Ten years ago, the Blackerby Fire threatened residences through the Cove Road area outside Grangeville, and word traveled by phone and from what websites were able to post of official news accounts and eyewitness reporting. Smartphones? Not around yet. Facebook? Barely a year old and hardly a glimmer in the public’s eye.
Now in August 2015, as blazes flared across the Clearwater Valley, word spread faster than the actual flames as social media gave real-time information to residents, public officials and a concerned public.
And the news is real-time, largely driven by official agencies pumping out announcements of road closure and evacuation stages. The Free Press has been proud to have been a part of that, keeping a long vigil on the information and distilling key, accurate information from rumor and gossip to provide running coverage on the situation. (And keep clicking our website, www.idahocountyfreepress.com, as we’ll continue to do so.)
In addition to all this, we’re seeing a whole new level of information through social media that wasn’t available a decade ago during Blackerby: the human component of neighbors checking on neighbors, passing along photos and videos of what was going on literally right in their own backyards.
And even more than that.
Social media has allowed for relatives and friends out-of-state to check on their loved ones in harm’s way. And it allows for the extended community to rally to Kamiah’s aid in helping people with evacuations and offering pasture to shelter livestock. Families have been pulled out of harm’s way, local community halls and horse trailers in parking lots have been filled with donations. And community funds have been set up for victims to assist with recovery and rebuilding.
There is much criticism about Facebook and similar sites on the sharing of trivialities, petty arguments and gossip. But, it is in moments of crises such as the fires across Kamiah, the Camas Prairie and across North Central Idaho where it’s value as a critical communication tool is highlighted in providing not only information but in rallying communities – our neighbors and friends — together to support each other.