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All across Southern California, many people wondered what to do and what they could do that was safe.

NPR's David Folkenflik has this story about a local radio station that was briefly knocked off the air but still became an extraordinary resource.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: On Sunday, KPBS-FM embarked on what became 75 straight hours of uninterrupted fire coverage, with update stories, listeners' calls, and interviews.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Man: What people should know is though that in these times of disaster…

FOLKENFLIK: KPBS doesn't have a couple hundred journalists like the Hometown Daily, the Union Tribune, or the flashy choppers of local TV. But it does operate San Diego's dominant NPR member station. And yes, that means it's one of ours, and it's one of the city's last sources of radio news.

As program director John Decker says, fires ravaging the area threatened its transmitter.

Mr. JOHN DECKER (Program Director, KPBS-FM Radio): All of the telephone lines and the power lines that run up the side of the mountain were completely incinerated. We went off the air on Tuesday morning at about 5:30.

FOLKENFLIK: After a call from Decker, officials at a commercial music station decided the best way to serve the public was to broadcast KPBS instead.

KPBS got back on the air on its own frequency a day later. The station's Web staffers were scrambling too. Online managing editor Leng Caloh took inspiration from a fairly new Google application called MyMap. People usually use MyMap to pinpoint things like the best places to play golf or get a drink.

Ms. LENG CALOH (Online Managing Editor, KPBS-FM Radio): The playing that a lot of us on the team do in our free time, I think, has been the key to our success.

FOLKENFLIK: This time, Caloh and KPBS created a virtual map of Southern California speckled with symbols that tell you down to the block what's been burned, where to find shelter, what roads were closed. It was relentlessly updated and became authoritative.

California State Fire Agency doesn't even have its own map but links instead to KPBS. That map has now been viewed well over 1.2 million times.

Google was so impressed that its MyMap project manager, Jessica Lee, was awakened in Tokyo at 3:00 a.m. to talk to me about KPBS.

Ms. JESSICA LEE (Project Manager, MyMap): It's really amazing that they managed to do this. I know they're a small sort of shoestring operation. But if you get people the tools and the technology to do this, you know, they'll do it.

FOLKENFLIK: When users overran the map, Google staffers swung into action to help it run smoothly. KPBS also set up a twitter account that funnels text updates of just a sentence or two to subscribers on mobile phones. About a thousand people took the feed.

Yesterday, KPBS sent out this hopeful note. Except for residents of one development, people throughout the city of San Diego could return to home.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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