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

Week 8: Monitoring Fires

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Using ArcGIS 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 the link below to download the zipped file.

    YellowstoneFireDataAM (Zip Archive 35.3MB Apr3 10)
  • Unzip the file. A folder called YellowstoneFireDataAM will be created.
  • Move the YellowstoneFireDataAM folder to inside the Data folder of Week8.
    (Path: c:/Eyesinthesky2/Week8/YellowstoneFireDataAM)

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Launch ARCGIS ArcMap and Open the YSFAM.mxd Project File

Shortcut1
  • Launch ARCGIS ArcMap by double-clicking its icon on your desktop or by clicking its icon on the Launch Bar.
  • Choose File > Open, navigate to c:/Eyesinthesky2/Week8/YellowstoneFireDataAM, select the file YSFAM.mxd, 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. Right click the NW States layer in the Table of Contents.
      85 Zoom to Layer
    2. Click on Zoom to Layer in the context menu to zoom into the northwestern region of the United States.
      86 Zoom to Layer NW States

  • Can you identify the 11 states in this layer? Use the Label 87 Label Tool tool to label the names of the states.
  • Click the New Text down arrow at the bottom of the map. Click on the Label 87 Label Tool tool.
    91 Label NW States
  • Return to the map. Hover over the state to see the name of the state. You can also click on a state and the state will be labeled. In this example, Idaho has a graphic label and Montana is being hovered over.
    92 Label with Hover
  • Close the Label Tool Option box when you have completed exploring the NW States layer. Click once on any state labels and click on the Delete key on your keyboard to remove them from your map

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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.
    98 Zoom in on Parks
  • 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.
    99 Yellowstone Area Zoomed In
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Click on the movie to start playing.

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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 Town layer and make it the active layer. Choose the Identify Identify tool and click on each town to learn their names.
    1. Turn on the Yellowstone Towns layer. Use the Zoom Out Zoom Out tool to view all of the National Forest layer.
      100 Yellowstone Towns ON
    2. Choose the Identify Identify tool and click on each town to learn their names. Cooke City is identified in this example.
      101 Identify Cooke City

  • 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. Place a checkmark in the box next to the Yellowstone Facilities layer in the Table of Contents. Right-click on the Yellowstone Facilities layer and select Open Attribute Table.
      102 Facilities Right Click
    2. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, scroll across until you find the FEATURE field. Right-click on the field name FEATURE and select Sort Ascending.
      103 Sort FEATURES
    3. Bookstore will be at the top of the list, Campground will be listed second.

  • To select all the campgrounds, click the gray box to the left of the first campground record in the Attribute Table. Hold your left click button down and drag your mouse down to the final campground record in the Attribute Table. Notice that the campgrounds are now colored blue on the map.
    104 Campgrounds Selected in Table
  • How many campgrounds did you select?
  • Eleven campgrounds were selected.
  • Close the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table. Click on the Clear Selected Features Clear Selected button to clear the selected facilities.

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Search for a feature you might want to visit

  • Create a query to locate the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
    1. Click on the Zoom In Zoom In tool to zoom in to Yellowstone National Park.
    2. Click the Selection > Select by Attribute menu option. In the Select by Attributes window that opens, double click on NAME then once on the equals sign. Click on Get Unique Values button and then double click on the words Old Faithful Visitor Center under the Values heading. (NAME = 'Old Faithful Visitor Center' )
      105 Old Faithful Selection
    3. Click the OK button. You will see the results of your query highlighted in blue on the map.
      Old Faithful Selected on Map

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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 menu option to set a 15 mile buffer that selects facilities.
    1. Click the Selection > Select by Location menu option to open the Select by Location window.
      107 Select by Location Window
    2. In the Select by Location window, set the Buffer Distance to 15 and the Buffer Units to Miles. Turn on the Apply a buffer to the features in Yellowstone Facilities option. Be sure to have Yellowstone Facilites as the selected layer at the top of the Select by Location window.
      108 Select by Location with Choices

  • Click OK. The map shows towns within 15 miles of Old Faithful Visitor Center, highlighted in blue.
    109 15 Mile Facilities of Old Faithful

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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 Yellowstone Facilities layer in the Table of Contents and select Open Attribute Table.
      110 Open Attribute Table Yellowstone Facilities
    2. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, scroll across to the FEATURE field heading. The selected records are highlighted in blue. Scroll down to check if there are any Campground selections.
      111 Campground Selected
  • 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.
  • When you are done, click the Clear Selected Features Clear Selected button and close the Attribute Table.
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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.
  • If they are on, turn off the Yellowstone Facilities, Yellowstone Town, Natl Wildlife Refuge, Teton Natl Park, Yellowstone National Park, National Forest layers.
  • To investigate the dates of the fire, Open the Attributetable 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 Historic Yellowstone Fire layer in the Table of Contents and select Open Attribute Table.
      113 Right Click Historic Yellowstone Fires
    2. Scroll across the Attributetable to find the DATE field in the last column.
      114 Scroll Across Table to Date
    3. Right-click on the DATE field heading and select Sort Ascending to find the first fire of 1988. Then switch to Sort Descending to find the last fire of 1988.
      115 Sort Ascending

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

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Create and execute a Query before finding the statistics on the number of acres burned by the major fires

  • First, set up a query to locate the North Fork Fire. Then open the Historic Yellowstone Fires attribute table. Finally right click in the Acres field to get the Statistics on the North Fork Fire. Repeat this process for the other large fires including Clover-Mist, Mink, Storm Creek, and Hellroaring.
    1. Click the Selection > Select by Attribute menu option to open the Select by Attribute window.
      116 Select by Attributes Fires
    2. A new window opens. Move it to where you can see both the Select by Attributes window and the map.
      117 Select by Attributes Window Open
    3. In the Select by Attributes window, double click on FIRENAME, then click once on the equals sign. Click on Get Unique Values and then double click on the words North Fork. (FIRENAME = 'North Fork'). Click Apply and OK.
      119 North Fork Query OK
    4. To find out how many acres were burned by the North Fork Fire, right click the Historic Yellowstone Fires layer and click on Open Attribute Table. Right click on the ACRES field header and click on Statistics in the context menu.
      121 Statistics on Attribute Table
    5. A new window opens. Look at the Sum field for the total acres burned in the North Fork fire. 827 records are selected on the map as is displayed in the
      Count: on the Statistics window.122 Statistics North Forks

  • Close the Statistics Results window.
  • Click the Clear Selected Features Clear Selected button between investigations.
  • Repeat these steps to explore the acres burned in other Historic Yellowstone Fires
  • 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

  • Right click on the Historic Yellowstone Fire layer in the Table of Contents.
  • Click the Selection> Select by Attribute menu option to set up a query to select the North Fork fire. Once this fire is selected it will be highlighted blue.
  • Right click on the Historic Yellowstone Fire layer and click the Selection > Select by Attribute menu option. In the Select by Attribute window that opens enter the following query: (FIRENAME = 'North Fork'). Click OK. The fire is now highlighted in blue on the map.
    123 Select North Fork
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Buffer the fire to select facilities that were within two miles of the fire

  1. Right click the Selection > Select by Location menu option to open the Select by Location window.
  2. In the Select by Location window, set the Buffer Distance to 2 and the Buffer Units to Miles. Turn on the Apply a buffer to the features in Historic Yellowstone Fires option. Be sure to have Yellowstone Facilitesas the selected layer at the top of the Select by Location window.
    124 Select Facilities in 2 Miles
  3. You will not see a visible buffer on the map but if you turn on the Yellowstone Facilities layer, you will be able to see the Yellowstone Facilities that were in jeopardy from the fire in the Yellowstone Facilities Attribute Table.
    125 North Fork Selected Buffer Not

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Find out how many facilities were threatened by the fire

  1. Right-click on the Yellowstone Facilities label in the Table of Contents and select Open Attribute Table. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, click on the Selected button at the bottom of the table. Right-click or on any field and select Sort Ascending.
    126 Yellowstone Facilities Affected
  2. 59 Yellowstone Facilities were threatened by the North Fork Fire.
    127 Facilities Selected by No

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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 5205 Add Data 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 Selected 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 5205 Add Data Button button, navigate to the YellowstoneFireDataAM folder, and select yellowstone_fire_starts.shp. Click Add. Click OK in the Unknown Spatial Reference box.
      128 Add Data Fire Starts
    2. Here is the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp layer on the map.
      129 Fire Starts
    3. Right-click on the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp label in the Table of Contents and select Open Attribute Table. Scroll across the table to see what fields it contains.
      130 Fire Starts Table
    4. Right-click on the yellowstone_fire_starts.shp layer in the Table of Contents and select Properties.... Use the following options:
      • Draw features using: Categories > Unique Values
      • Fields for values: Y_CAUSE
      • Color Ramp: Purples and Pinks
      • Style: Square
      • Size: 6
      • Choose purple hues for all manmade fires (matches, campfires etc).
      • Choose blue for smokers.
      • Choose red hues for all natural causes (i.e.lighting).
      • Click Apply and click OK

      131 Fire Starts Symbols
    5. Turn on the Yellowstone Roads layer by clicking the checkbox to the left of its name in the Table of Contents.
      139 Fires Starts with Roads

  • 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 lightning. 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 133 Measure Tool 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.
      134 YCause eq Smoker
    2. Zoom into a selected point. Measure from the road to the point.
      135 Measure to Road

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 off all layers except the NW United States and US Stateslayer from the project map. Right click on the NW United Stateslayer in the Table of Contents and click on Zoom to Layer.
  • 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 5205 Add Data Button button, navigate to the YellowstoneFireDataAM folder, and select TriStateFires 01-08.shp layer.
        136 Add Tri State Fires
      2. Set the Properties of the TriStateFires 01-08.shp to the following:
        • Draw features using: Quantities > Graduated Color
        • Field: First_Year
        • Classes: 7
        • Classified By: Equal Interval
        • Check Remove Outline
        • Click Apply and OK.

        137 Layer Properties
      3. This is the completed map of TriStates Fires, 2001-2008.
        138 Tri State Map

  • 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)

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Movies on this Page

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How to download movies

  • Click the link to go to the SERC media library listing for the movie. The record will open in a new window.
  • On the SERC media library page, right-click (Win) or control-click (Mac) the link (below the movie on the Flash version pages) to download the movie file to your hard drive.
  • Look below the movie window for the file download link.

    Save Movie from CMS listing

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Flash Video Versions

Download these versions to play on your computer. You'll need an appropriate movie player to view the file, such as Flash Player, Real Player (Mac / Win), or Adobe Media Player.

Movie Icon Locating Yellowstone National Park in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Finding Facilities in Yellowstone National Park in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Querying Fire Statistics in ArcGIS

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iPod Versions

Download these version to play on your iPod or iPhone.

Movie Icon Locating Yellowstone National Park in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Finding Facilities in Yellowstone National Park in ArcGIS

Movie Icon Querying Fire Statistics in ArcGIS