Twitter is becoming increasingly useful for lightweight updates on what's happening in the outside world (see "Confessions of a Twitter Convert," 2007-10-09, for my full discussion of Twitter). News of the Southern California fires has been trickling in as people in affected areas comment about nearby fires or the omnipresent smoke. And those elsewhere are tweeting about relatives in those spots or sharing news reports. But don't get the impression that I'm spending my day focused on these comments, or even Twitter in general, thanks to the way Growl displays new tweets acquired by Twitterrific. (My main complaint right now is that due to overloading of the Twitter site, Twitterrific's updates tend to come in batches, rather than as they're posted.)
Should you be interested in following tweets about the fires, you might try a new Twitter-related service I learned about via a tweet from my programmer/farmer friend Mo Barger. TwitterWhere searches Twitter's public timeline for tweets from people whose location is near an area you specify. Since I have a friend in Poway, CA, near San Diego, I asked TwitterWhere to show me tweets from that vicinity, and it generated an RSS feed of all matching tweets that I was able to scan quickly in Safari's RSS readers. Had I been interested in ongoing details, I could have followed the two most relevant posters, KPBS News and a guy named Nate Ritter.
Personal blogs played a huge role in conveying the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, and the ease of posting 140-character updates to Twitter via computer or cell phone will make it and similar services a key aspect of tracking events in particular places.