Eyes in the Sky II > GIT Web Course > Module 2 > Week 8 > Using GIS to Manage Forest Fires > Using AEJEE to Manage Forest Fires

Week 8: Monitoring Fires

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Using AEJEE to Manage Forest Fires

Mirror Plateau in flames, Summer 1988.
Source: NPS Photo archives.

Key Investigation Questions:

  • Where were the Yellowstone Fires of 1988?
  • How was GIS used to assist in the management of these fires ?
  • What is the primary cause of forest fire in Yellowstone National Park?

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Download Geographic Data About Yellowstone Fires

  • Right-click (Win) or control-click (Mac) the link below to download the zipped file.

    YellowstoneFireDataAE (Zip Archive 35.4MB Apr3 10)
  • Unzip the file. A folder called YellowstoneFireDataAE will be created.
  • Move the YellowstoneFireDataAE folder to inside the Data folder of AEJEE.
    (Path: ESRI/AEJEE/Data/YellowstoneFireDataAE.)

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Launch AEJEE and Open the YNP.axl Project File

AEJEE_logo
  • Launch AEJEE by double-clicking its icon on your desktop or by clicking its icon in the Dock (Mac) or Launch Bar (Win).
  • Choose File > Open, navigate to ESRI/AEJEE/Data/ YellowstoneFireData, select the file YNP.axl, and click Open.
  • When the project opens, the base map displays latitude and longitude lines, outlines of countries of the world and the United States. The map highlights states in the northwestern region of the U.S.

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Where in the World is Yellowstone National Park?

  • Zoom in to the NW States layer.
    1. Make NW States the active layer by clicking on its name in the Table of Contents.
      2 zoom to active layer NW states
    2. Click the Zoom to Active Layer Zoom to Full Extent button to zoom into the northwestern region of the United States.
      3 zoomed in to active layer NW states

  • Can you identify the 11 states in this layer? Set the Map Tips map tips button tool to label the names of the states as you hover over them.
  • Click the Map Tips map tips button tool. Choose the NW States Layer, set the Fields: to Name 1_, and click Set MapTips. Then click OK.
    5 NW states dialog boz map tips
  • Return to the map. Hover over the any of the states with your cursor and the state will be labeled. Oregon is labeled in this example.
    6 map tips over oregon

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Locate Yellowstone in the Region

Turn on the National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, Teton Natl Park, and Natl Wildlife Refuge layers.


Yellowstone Park and Federal Lands

  • Use the Zoom In Zoom in tool to take a closer look at Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding federal lands, such as the National Forest and National Wildlife Refuge. Observe the amount of National Forest surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
    8 using map tips to
  • Notice the amount of federal land surrounding Yellowstone National Park. This open land is an important resource for human use and wildlife habitat. The National Forests of the Western United States serve many purposes. Not only do they contain extremely valuable lumber resources, they serve as important carbon sinks and provide habitat and safe refuge for many species of animals. Parks also serve as major corridors for animal migration. Over 75% of the Western United States is federal land of some type.
  • Zoom in even closer on the Yellowstone National Park layer. Turn the layer on and off and hover over the boundary edges to find out which states the park occupies.
  • Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho are all included in Yellowstone National Park.
    what states in YNP

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Focus on Finding Facilities in Yellowstone National Park

Planning a trip to see Yellowstone and its magnificent features? You would probably want to know more about the facilities in and around the park, such as where might you find a hotel outside of Yellowstone National Park or where to find a campground that is closest to the attractions that you have traveled to see. Use GIS techniques to find the towns close to the northern, western, and eastern boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.

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Locate towns and campgrounds

  • Turn on the Yellowstone Towns layer and make it the active layer. Choose the Identify identify button tool and click on each town to learn their names.
    1. Turn on the Yellowstone Towns layer and make it the active layer. Use the Zoom Out Zoom Out tool to view all of the National Forest layer.
      zoomed to Yellowstone towns
    2. Choose the Identify identify button tool and click on each town to learn their names. Cooke City is identified in this example.
      10 using identify tool to locate towns

  • Prefer a campground in the park? Then turn on the Yellowstone Facilities layer and find several campgrounds. Open the Attribute table, sort the Features in ascending order, and search for campgrounds.
    1. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac the Yellowstone Facilities name in the Table of Contents and select Attribute Table.
      11 Opening Attribute table of facilities
    2. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, scroll across until you find the FEATURE field. Right-click or control-click on the name FEATURE and select Sort Ascending.
      12 features sort ascending
    3. Bookstore will be at the top of the list, Campgrounds will be listed second.

  • To select all the campgrounds, hold the shift key and click on all the campgrounds in the Attribute table. Notice that the campgrounds are now colored yellow on the map.
    13 Campgrounds selected on map
  • How many campgrounds did you select?
  • Eleven campgrounds were selected.
  • Close the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table.

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Search for a feature you might want to visit

  • Create a query to locate the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
    1. With the Yellowstone Facilities layer the active layer, click the Query Builder Query builder button button. In the Query Builder window that opens, click once on NAME then on the equals sign then on the words Old Faithful Visitor Center under the Values heading. (NAME = 'Old Faithful Visitor Center')
      old faithful query
    2. Click the Execute button. You will see the results of your query in the window below the formula and highlighted in yellow on the map.
      old faithful executed

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Buffer the Old Faithful Visitor Center to find facilities that are located within a 15 mile radius of it

  • Use the Buffer buffer tool icon button to set a 15 mile buffer that selects facilities.
    1. Click the Buffer buffer tool icon button to open the Buffer window.
      buffer window open
    2. In the Buffer window, set the Buffer Distance to 15 and the Buffer Units to Miles. Turn on the Use buffer to select features from this layer option, using the Yellowstone Facilities layer.
      3.5 buffer window open filled in

  • Click Apply and OK. The map shows a 15 mile buffer around the Old Faithful Visitor Center, with facilities that are within the buffer showing as highlighted in yellow.
    buffer 15 mile

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Find campgrounds that resulted from the spatial query

  • To see if any campgrounds are within a 15 mile radius of Old Faithful Visitor Center, open the Attribute Table of the Yellowstone Facilities layer and scroll over to the NAME field. Then sort the selected data to the top of the table.
    1. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac the Yellowstone Facilities label in the Table of Contents and select Attribute Table.
      opening attribute table
    2. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, scroll across to the NAME field. The selected records are highlighted in blue. Right-click or control-click on NAME and select Sort Selected Data To Top.
      sort selected to the top

  • Look in the FEATURE field to see if any campgrounds were selected.
  • What campground is within 15 miles of Old Faithful Visitor Center
  • Madison Campground is within 15 miles of Old Faithful Visitor Center.
    sort selected to the top done
  • When you are done, click the Clear All Selections Clear Selections button.

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The Historic 1988 Fires in Yellowstone National Park

The fires of 1988 were a result of a "perfect storm" of conditions. The summers of 1982-1987 were exceptionally wet, both suppressing fire and creating a build up of fuels. The summer of 1988 had been exceptionally warm and dry across the west. Normally, during summer months in this region the lands are in lush bloom, but this year the grass and other fuels were tinder dry. The forests of Yellowstone had not seen a fire of this magnitude in as many as 200 years, resulting in trees that were tightly clustered and ripe for the spread of a fire. Hot dry conditions combined with many dry lighting storms triggered the fires of '88. Wind accelerated it. By September 1988, fifty fires had engulfed the park.

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Get a sense of how the fires progressed

  • Turn on the Historic Yellowstone Fire layer by checking the box to the left of its name.
  • To investigate the dates of the fire, Open the Attribute table for the Historic Yellowstone Fire layer and sort the DATE field in ascending and descending order. NOTE: The date format is year–month-day. Search for the name of the first and last fire of 1988. The unburned areas have the date "1988".
    1. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac the Historic Yellowstone Fire label in the Table of Contents and select Attribute Table.
      9 opening attribute of Hist fire
    2. Scroll across the Attribute table to find the DATE field in the last column.
      9.5 scrolling across to date field
    3. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac on the DATE field and select Sort Ascending to find the first fire of 1988. Then switch to Sort Descending to find the last fire of 1988.
      10 sorting by date

    First fire – Fan Fire, June 30th, 1988
    Last fire – Clover-Mist, Oct 10th, 1988

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Create and execute a Query to find out the number of acres burned by the major fires

  • First, set up a query to locate the North Fork Fire. Then use the Statistics button in the Query Builder window to investigate the extent of the North Fork Fire. Repeat this process for the other large fires including Clover-Mist, Mink, Storm Creek, and Hellroaring.
    1. Click the Query Builder button or select Tools > Query Builder to open the Query Builder window.
      tools query builder
    2. A new window opens. Move it to where you can see both the Query Builder window and the map.
      Tools query builder over map open
    3. In the Query Builder window, click once on FIRENAME, then on the equals sign, then on the words North Fork under the Values heading. (FIRENAME = 'North Fork'). Click Execute. 827 records are selected on the map.
      query equals NF
    4. To find out how many acres were burned by the North Fork Fire, click the Statistics button in the Query Builder window.
      clicking statistics
    5. A new window opens. Select ACRES as the field to get statistics about and check the Use Query Results? box. Click OK.
      statistics window open
    6. The Statistics Results shows the Total number of acres at 531,225.451.
      statistics results

  • Close the Statistics Results window.
  • Click the Clear All Selections Clear Selections button between investigations.
  • What were the total numbers of acres burned for these fires?
  • The biggest fires of 1988, in terms of total acres burned, were:
    • North Fork - 531,225.451 acres
    • Clover-Mist - 360,055.750 acres
    • Mink - 144,687.751 acres
    • Storm Creek - 143,650.534 acres
    • Hellroaring - 101,974.311 acres
  • Estimate what percentage of Yellowstone National Park burned in 1988.
  • Ecosystem wide, including areas of National Forest around the park, about 1.2 million acres were scorched. 793,000 (about 36%) of Yellowstone Park's 2,221,800 acres were burned.

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Discover Which Yellowstone Facilities were Threatened by the Fires

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Select the North Fork fire

  • Make the Historic Yellowstone Fire layer active by clicking on its name in the Table of Contents.
  • Click the Query Builder Query builder button button and set up a query to select the North Fork fire. Once this fire is selected it will be highlighted yellow.
  • With the Historic Yellowstone Fire layer active, click the Query Builder Query builder button button. In the the Query Builder window that opens enter the following query: (FIRENAME = 'North Fork'). Click Execute. The fire is now highlighted in yellow on the map.
    query equals NF
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Buffer the fire to select facilities that were within two miles of the fire

  1. Click the Buffer buffer tool icon button to open the Buffer window.
  2. In the Buffer window, set the Buffer Distance to 2 and the Buffer Units to Miles. Turn on the Use buffer to select features from this layer option, using the Yellowstone Facilities layer.
    34 North Fork Selected drawing buffer
  3. A buffer will be drawn on the map and the selected features will be highlighted in yellow.
    buffer with facilites highlighted

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Find out how many facilities were threatened by the fire

  1. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac the Yellowstone Facilities label in the Table of Contents and select Attribute Table. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, right-click or control-click on any field and select Sort Selected Data To Top.
    37 Sort selected to top
  2. 59 Yellowstone Facilities were threatened by the North Fork Fire.
    38 Sort selected to top complete

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Repeat this process on the Clover-Mist and Hellroaring Fires

  • Record 3 threatened facilities from each of the following fires: North Fork, Clover-Mist, and Hellroaring.
  • Wind fans fires

    On a windy day, a forest fire like those in Yellowstone National Park can rapidly engulf new areas as far as 10 miles from the previous fire boundaries. Fire managers constantly use weather reports, terrain maps, and other information, such as images from airplanes to make decisions about where to put their fire fighting efforts. At the same time they also must decide which areas to evacuate and which roads to close. Since the Yellowstone fires 20 years ago, the tools of technology, like GIS and satellites, have greatly aided the decision making process.

  • Envision that you are the fire manager. How would you make decisions as to what to save, what to evacuate, and what roads to open or close? Put yourself in the "hot seat".
    Experiment with different sized buffers around the each of the Historic Yellowstone Fire polygons to get a sense of a fire manager's decision-making strategies during a fire of this magnitude.
  • Use the Add Data Layer add layer button button to the map other data sets from the data folder that could be of interest to a fire manager, such as cabins, camps, trails, and roads.
    Consider the following:
    • What data would be important during a crisis such as a fire?
    • How would you move equipment and firefighters?
    • What areas would require evacuation?
  • When you are finished, click the Clear All Selections Clear Selections button.

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Consider Fire Management Decisions in National Parks

Fire management in the National Parks allows for the natural progression of fires. As far back as 1972, fire management in Yellowstone National Park encouraged as many as possible of the lightening-caused fires to progress naturally while protecting human life, properties, and historic structures. In contrast, all human-caused fires are to be suppressed. Prescribed burning is to be utilized to prevent the spread of fires.

From the time the fire management plan in Yellowstone National Park went into effect in 1972, until the fires of '88 erupted, 34,175 acres had burned in Yellowstone due to natural causes. The summer of 1988 broke all the rules of fire, and forever changed fire management strategies. Now, while protecting human life is first priority, fires are allowed to play their ecological role in the park.

Consider the following thought questions:
  • What were the contributing factors that lead to the enormous fires of 1988?
  • How do today's park managers decide which fires to fight and which fires to let burn naturally?
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Fire: just part of nature?

  • Add the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp layer and investigate its Attribute table. Then edit the properties of the layer to make it more visible. Last, turn on the Yellowstone Roads layer.
    1. Click the Add Data Layer add layer button button, navigate to the YellowstoneFireData folder, and select yellowstone_fire_starts.shp. Click OK.
      43 Yellowstone fire starts shapefile
    2. Here is the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp layer on the map.
      44 Yellowstone fire starts on map
    3. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp label in the Table of Contents and select Attribute Table. Scroll across the table to see what fields it contains.
      45 Yellowstone Fire starts Attribute
    4. Right-click on the PC or control-click on the Mac the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp label in the Table of Contents and select Properties.... Use the following options:
      • Draw features using: Unique Symbols
      • Fields for values: Y_CAUSE
      • Color Scheme: Random
      • Style: Square
      • Size: 6
      • Edit the colors to make each one distinct.
      • Choose purple hues for all man made fires (matches, campfires etc).
      • Choose blue for smokers.
      • Choose red hues for all natural causes (i.e.lighting).
      • Click Apply and click OK

      48 editing properties of Fire Starts
    5. Turn on the Yellowstone Roads layer by clicking the checkbox to the left of its name in the Table of Contents.
      50 roads on

  • What is the most common cause of fires in Yellowstone National Park?
  • Human caused fires are very common in Yellowstone National Park. However, the number one cause of fires is lighting. Recent fire policy (2003) is to let all naturally started fires burn to completion, but to protect people and facilities.
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Investigate the relationship between fire starts and roads.

Generally, how far are the human caused fires away from the highways in Yellowstone National Park?

  • Use the Measure measure button tool to measure the distance from the road to the smoker caused fires. Describe the relationship between human caused fires and roadways.
    1. Create and execute a query to find all the fires started by smokers.
      query for smoker
    2. Zoom into a selected point. Measure from the road to the point.
      zoomed in to measure

Thought Question: In your opinion, what is the best prevention tool needed to manage and control fires in National Parks?

Should fires be allowed to burn in National Forest and National Parks?

Mosaic pattern of burn in Madison Canyon. Source: NPS

While horrific to view, fire is as natural a part of the western ecosystem as are bears and elk. In fact, fire often improves habitats for some animals, increasing grazing for elk and providing dead trees that can be used for nesting cavities for birds. A natural fire such as the one in Yellowstone National Park burns in a pattern known as a mosaic. This mosaic pattern is healthy for a forest because it creates forested areas that are mixed in both age and plant type. This mixed structure can be seen developing in the satellite images and aerial photographs from NASA.





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Explore More if your have Time

The Fires in the Northwest US 2001-2008

  • Turn of all layers except the NW United States and US States layer from the project map.
  • Add the TriStateFires 01-08.shp layer. This layer has been selected to show only this 3 state region. It was selected from a larger, National map showing all significant fires in the years 2001-2008.
  • View the regions of the Northwest States of Idaho, MT, Colorado, and Wyoming where wildfires have occurred in the past seven years.
    • Set the Properties of the TriStateFires 01-08.shp to the following:
      • Draw features using: Graduated Symbols
      • Field: First_Year
      • Classes: 7
      • Classified By: Equal Interval
      • Check Remove Outline
      • Click Apply and OK.
      1. Click the Add Data Layer add layer button button, navigate to the YellowstoneFireData folder, and select TriStateFires 01-08.shp layer.
        seelcting tri states fires
      2. Set the Properties of the TriStateFires 01-08.shp to the following:
        • Draw features using: Graduated Symbols
        • Field: First_Year
        • Classes: 7
        • Classified By: Equal Interval
        • Check Remove Outline
        • Click Apply and OK.

        adjusting properties of tri states fires
      3. This is the completed map of TriStates Fires, 2001-2008.
        tri states fire completed

  • Consider the following questions: four panel
    • What regions seem to be most prone to fires?
    • Which State had the most fires in 2007?
    • View the drought conditions map from July 2007 that is to the right. (Click on the map to view a larger version.) Do you see a correlation between drought conditions and fire frequency?


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Resources

  • Read more about this NASA partnership at NASA Satellites Eye Forest Fires
  • Read more about NASA's role in the management of the 1988 fires, summarized from Yellowstone Science web pages and The Fires of '88 by Ross W. Simpson.
  • View an animation of the fire progression from NASA.
  • To learn more read the articles about the Arnica fire from September 24th and October 12th, 2009 listed below:
  • NASA Earth Observatory Story: Arnica Fire
  • NASA Earth Observatory Story: Arnica Fire Oct
  • Wildland Fire in Yellowstone on the web.
  • View pictures of the major facilities at Yellowstone National Park during the fire. Included are the features: Grant Village Campground, Madison Junction, Old Faithful Lodge and the East and North Entrances.Pictures of 1988 fires in PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 5.1MB Apr2 10)