This question came from Kelly Minton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Before I even begin to answer it, if you’ve never heard of or used the Street View on Google Maps, it’s a feature that makes you feel as if you’re standing in a street and allows you to take a 360-degree look around a neighborhood.
To understand this online mapping system better, I reached out to someone you’ve probably heard on NSPR before – Dave Schlom. He hosts the program Blue Dot at the station, but is also a high school science teacher. He says he uses Google Maps a lot to look at different land forms.
“One of my favorite things to do is Google Maps flyover the San Andreas Fault and look at all the different land forms on that,” Schlom said.
Schlom is also a past resident of Paradise, spending 30 years of his life there. He said when he recently looked at the Satellite version of Google Maps he was surprised by what he saw.
“I had looked at Paradise not too long ago and it was still there, the old pictures of the town were there and then I noticed oh, now they’ve got it updated. It’s burned,” Schlom said.
He said he then checked the Street View map to see if that had also changed. It was the same and he could still virtually visit places in Paradise like one of the first homes he ever lived in when he was a kid.
“It was a custom-built home. Kind of a strange, Nordic. Viking kind of shaped home that kind of looked like the prow of a Viking ship,” Schlom said.
While Schlom said it’s nice to have the old Street View, it wouldn’t be healthy for use regularly. He said he started going down a rabbit hole.
“Wanting to look at every home I ever lived in on the street view and after a while I decided, this isn’t good for me,” he said.
I decided to take a look at Street View for myself. When I did, I was shocked at what I first saw. After typing in ‘Paradise, California’ I was placed inside of a burnt car. When this happened I was sitting next to Danielle Hansen. She had been a Paradise resident for 23 years before losing her home in the Camp Fire.
“I hadn’t seen it from that view when you opened it up and it’s in the burned-out car. That's kind of distraught,” Hansen said.
She said everyone always knew the perfect storm of a fire could come.
“But you always thought it would get to Clark Road and it would get a hold. It would get to Skyway and they would get a hold on it, you never expected it to engulf the whole town,” she said.
As we sat there looking at the map, Danielle showed me what her place looked like after the fire.
“There's just nothing you even recognize,” Hansen said.
Hansen agreed with Schlom and said that if Google Maps does archive what Paradise looked like before the fire, it wouldn't benefit her at all to look at it daily online.
“If I had to go somewhere to look at it, I think that’s history and you have to keep that alive now and keeping Paradise alive and what Paradise was to what it’s going to be, would be important to be able to see still,” she said.
Now, to your question, Kelly. Google Maps declined to comment for the story, but what I have learned while doing this research is that Google Maps does archive the Street View using a special timeline function. If the address you’re looking at has archived photos you’ll see a small clock at the top left of the map. If you click it, you’ll be able to scroll through any previous maps.
For example, when looking at Paradise on Google Maps, if you type in Skyway Road in Paradise you can see street views from 2012 and 2018.
Other disaster locations around the world also seem to indicate the Street View of Paradise will be archived.
If you look up the ‘World Trade Center’ in New York, you’ll find there are archives of the new World Trade Center being built after the 9/11 attacks.
Again, I was unable to confirm that Google Maps will preserve the Street View of Paradise, but it seems like there is a precedence.
It’s also important to note that Street View archives only go back to the years and places where the Street View car previous traveled and took photos, so some places may not have past photos.
If you do end up going to Google Maps to look up Paradise beware, the company has changed the photos from before and after the fire a few times, so who knows what you’ll end up seeing if you visit the website.