YubaNet a trail blazer in fire coverage
When there’s smoke, check out this website
By Don Baumgart
For the Nevada City Advocate
YubaNet, one of Nevada City’s richest online information resources, came of age when two women, sitting in their hilltop yard outside Nevada City, saw a plume of smoke on the horizon. The year was 1999.
“What is that?” “Where is it?” Susan Levitz and Pascale Fusshoeller asked each other. “Well, let’s call someone.”
“We called the Forest Service and were put through to their public information officer,” Pascale remembers. “‘Oh, yes, that’s the Pendola Fire.’ a woman told us. ‘Where is it?’ She told us. ‘Can we put that information on our website?’ There was this pause. ‘You want to do what? Why would you want to do that? I’ll have to check out your website.’
“To her everlasting credit, half an hour later she called back. “Your web page looks pretty harmless, you can put the information up,” Pascale adds with a chuckle.
So, if that was the first big story for the young website, is it true that YubaNet was started in the classic way, with $100 and a credit card?
“That’s pretty much the way it was,” Susan says.
“We didn’t even have the credit card,” Pascale adds.
“We put together whatever money we had,” Susan says. Some think that because of her last name she is wealthy. “I wish” is her response to that.
Susan is from the Bay Area, bought property up here in the ‘80s. Pascale came to California from South Dakota. They met through a mutual friend and started a community website. It caught flame with their post about the Pendola fire.
“Someone from KVMR stumbled across our site and called. ‘Who are you guys? Do you know more about the fire?’ They mentioned our website on the air and that’s how we got into reporting fires and this monster started that now prevents me from having any time off,” Pascale says. “From having a life,” Susan adds with a laugh.
YubaNet now has more than 20,000 visitors a day.
“The fire information is the gateway drug,” Pascale says. “That’s how we get them in the door.” The site soon added road conditions and weather. “People not only want that information, they need it,” she says.
“I start at three or four in the morning,” Susan says, “going through the news releases that came in overnight, often as many as 2,000.” Much of the information on YubaNet is in original news release form. “We post stories that are relevant to people who live here,” Susan says.
“We have a good working relationship with both KNCO and KVMR,” Pascale says of the two local radio stations.
“YubaNet is one of our first lines of defense when it comes to emergencies,” Steve Baker, KVMR program director, says. “If our listeners haven't spotted a fire, you can safely bet YubaNet has, and they'll have information we can quickly and confidently pass along to our listeners.
“In addition, Pascale's extraordinary experience in covering fires pays off with her expert analysis and inside information that we can offer listeners,” Baker adds. “We also trade information if we're both working the same breaking story so that adds to the quality of reporting for both our listeners and their web readers.
“In 2009, KVMR's Program Committee awarded Pascale the Osborn-Woods Community Service Award, with this explanation, according to Baker: “For her outstanding and knowledgeable fire news, constantly alerting our listeners to changing fire conditions and emergency situations, for being a true media partner with KVMR, for the first time we give an award to someone outside KVMR but who feels at home with us always…Pascale Fusshoeller of YubaNet.”
KNCO also appreciates the quality of YubaNet’s fire coverage.
“What we get from them is probably the most complete emergency fire coverage on the Internet,” says Tom Fitzsimmons, KNCO station manager. “They have a tremendous resource, including contact with people on the front lines. Also, they get very good facts and figures...very clean and very up-to-date...from firefighters.”
The founders of YubaNet are not surprised they have a loyal audience in the woods of Northern California.
“Fire up here is frightening,” Susan says.
“There is not one single place where you have information on all the fires, except YubaNet,” Pascale adds. “People want to know where is the fire, where is it going, how big is it going to get, are they on it? Do I have to pack up and leave?”
Their fire reporting became so good they once corrected an Associated Press story. “AP said - and KCRA TV used the story, calling it breaking news - that the town of Washington had been evacuated because of fire,” Pascale says. “I called KCRA news and said, ‘I’m up at the Omega overlook and I’m looking at it and no there’s no way. You can go with AP or go with me, I don’t care. KCRA news told me they would go with YubaNet and toss the AP story.”
See smoke? You can find out more at www.yubanet.com.