An online interactive story about a family's harrowing experience during a severe bush fire in Tasmania that integrates various media in visually innovative ways.

Bushfire at Dunalley The Guardian

What is it?

Firestorm takes the dramatic personal story of the Holmes family during a bush fire as a narrative anchor and embeds this human story in a broader context of the history of bush fires in Tasmania and global climate change.

It makes use of various media - including audio and video footage, interviews, writing, photography and maps - to produce a visually compelling and immersive interactive story. This interactive story seeks a fine balance between personal and contextual information, interaction and linear flow.

The project is the result of an intense collaboration between writer Jon Henley and the interactive team at The Guardian. In connection with the launch of Firestorm, Guardian Books published an accompanying eBook relating the story of the town of Dunalley.

A view in text and visuals of the history of bush fires in Australia

How does it work?

During the great bush fire, Grandpa Tim Holmes used his smartphone to take pictures of his wife Tammy and five grandchildren clinging onto the jetty of a lake where they sought refuge from the fire. Right after the fires, the pictures of the Holmes family became world famous, an event that provides the starting point for the multimedia storytelling in Firestorm.

Producer Francesca Panetta explains what Firestorm adds to journalism

The project for an interactive story was launched by The Guardian UK in collaboration with The Guardian Australia, which provided the opportunity to share resources and create a unique and labor-intensive story. The Guardian turned the Holmes family images into a rich magazine-like visual interactive, reconstructing the Holmes’ experience of that dark day.

Firestorm creatively embeds a variety of sources in a compelling linear storyline that uses the dramatic photos shot by the family to bring to life a wealth of contextual information. The project reads like an e-book, divided in chapters and enriched with loads of embedded content that smoothly pops-up to enhance the power of storytelling.

A still of the video of Grandmother Tammy Holmes reliving that dark day The Guardian

Firestorm, which took three months to produce, credits twenty-three people. See this analysis by The Poynter Institute: "How on-going teamwork fuelled The Guardian's Firestorm interactive". Although few newsrooms have the kind of resources that The Guardian was able to commit, the inspiring experiment with layered, multimedia storytelling that Firestorm represents can be replicated on a smaller scale.

The keys to its success were early and realistic planning, and smooth collaboration between editorial, design and technical departments, which allowed the story to evolve alongside technical editing.

Why did we select it?

Firestorm is selected for its creative and innovative multimedia storytelling. It connects compelling visuals and texts to develop

Producer Francesca Panetta The Guardian

a contextual story about climate change and smoothly embeds video and audio sources in a non-fiction narrative to create a new kind of immersive reading experience.

Comparable visual interactives

A few similar interactive visual storytelling are Snow Fall, Last 32 hours of Martin Luther King (multimedia storytelling), and The New York Times’ Boston Marathon attack multimedia story.

Other fine examples are Medium (online platform for stories written by independent journalists and writers), and The Magazine (online paid-subscribers magazine, based on a theme with five medium to long articles of independent authors).

TED Books are shorter than a novel, but longer than a magazine article. TED Books are typically under 20,000 words and embed audio, video and social features in every book.