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

Week 8: Monitoring Fires

top of page

Using My World 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?

top of page

Download Geographic Data About Yellowstone Fires

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

    YellowstoneFireDataMW (Zip Archive 39.9MB Jun15 10)
  • Unzip the file. A folder called YellowstoneFireDataMW will be created.
  • Move the YellowstoneFireDataMW folder to inside the Data folder of My World
    (Path: Applications/My World/data/YellowstoneFireDataMW.)

top of page<br /

Launch My World and Open the YNP.m3vz Project File

My World Icon
  • Launch My World by double-clicking its icon on your desktop or by clicking its icon in the Dock (Mac) or Launch Bar (Win).
  • Choose File > Open Project..., navigate to Applications/My World /data/ YellowstoneFireData, select the file YNP.m3vz, and click Open.
  • When the project opens, the base map displays Latitude and Longitude lines, outlines of Countries of the world and the U.S. States. The map highlights states in the northwestern region of the U.S.

top of page

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 Layer List.
      2 NW states active
    2. Click the Zoom to Active Layer zoom to active layer button to zoom into the northwestern region of the United States.
      3 NW states active zoomed in

  • Can you identify the 11 states in this layer? Set the Get Information identify tool to label the names of the states as you click on them.
  • Click the Get Information identify tool. Choose the NW States Layer click on a state to learn more about it.

  • Return to the map. Hover over the any of the states with your cursor and the state will be labeled. Colorado is identified in this example.
    4 NW states active get info

top of page

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 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.
    6 zoomed to YNP
  • 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 use the Get Information Tool to click on the boundary edges to find out which states the park occupies.
  • Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho are all included in Yellowstone National Park.
    7 identify states in park

top of page

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.

top of page

Locate towns and campgrounds

  • Turn on the Yellowstone Towns layer and make it the active layer. Choose the Get Information identify 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 tool to view all of the National Forest layer.
      8 Yellowstone towns
    2. Choose the Get Information identify tool and click on each town to learn their names. Cooke City is identified in this example.
      9 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. Click on the Yellowstone Facilities name in the Layer List and select Table of Layer.
    2. In the Table of Layer "Yellowstone Facilities" table that opens, scroll across until you find the FEATURE field. Click on the name FEATURE and to Sort Ascending.
      11 Opening Attribute table of facilities
    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 Table of Layer "Yellowstone Facilities".
  • Click Make Selection from Rows. Name the selection "campgrounds" and click OK.
    12 make selection from rows

  • Notice that the campgrounds are now colored yellow on the map. 13 campgrounds yellow
  • How many campgrounds did you select?
  • Eleven campgrounds were selected.
  • Close the Table of Layer "Yellowstone Facilities".

top of page

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 Analyze tab. In the Analyze window that opens, choose Select... By Value . Select Records from Yellowstone Facilities Whose NAME is Old Faithful Visitor Center. Type in "Old Faithful Visitor Center" as the Result Name.
      14 analyse window
    2. Click OK. You will see the results of your query highlighted in yellow on the map.
      14a query results

top of page

Buffer the Old Faithful Visitor Center to find facilities that are located within a 20 mile radius of it

  • In Analyze mode select the Make Buffer Around... buffer icon option to set a 20 mile buffer around Old Faithful Visitor Center. Accept the default Result Name and click OK.
    1. In Analyze mode select the Make Buffer Around... buffer icon option. Set a 20 mile buffer around Old Faithful Visitor Center. Accept the default Result Name and click OK. 15 make buffer around

  • Click OK. The map shows a 20 mile buffer around the Old Faithful Visitor Center. Edit the Appearance of the layer to 80% transparent with yellow fill.
    16 edit appearance
  • In Analyze mode Select > By Spatial Relationship ... > By Containment to select records from: campgrounds which: Are Completely Contained By records in: 20 mile Buffer of Old Faithful Visitor Center. 17 Spatial Query set up

top of page

Find campgrounds that resulted from the spatial query

  • To see if any campgrounds are within a 20 mile radius of Old Faithful Visitor Center, open the Table of Layer of the Yellowstone Facilities and scroll over to the NAME field. Then sort the selected data to the top of the table.
    1. Click on the Yellowstone Facilities label in the Layer List and select Table of Selection.
    2. In the Table of Selection that opens, scroll across to the NAME field. The selected records are highlighted in yellow.
      20 campgrounds wi 20 m

  • Look in the FEATURE field to see if any campgrounds were selected.
  • What campgrounds is within 20 miles of Old Faithful Visitor Center
  • Madison Campground and Grant Village Campground are within 20 miles of Old Faithful Visitor Center.
    20 campgrounds wi 20 m
  • When you are done, click the Delete Selection button to delete the selection of facilities near Old Faithful. Also turn off the buffer layer of Old Faithful.

top of page

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.

top of page

Get a sense of how the fires progressed

  • Turn on the Historic Yellowstone Fires layer by checking the box to the right of its name.
  • To investigate the dates of the fire, Open the Table of Layer for the Historic Yellowstone Fires 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. Click on the Historic Yellowstone Fires label in the Layer List and select Table of Layer.
    2. Scroll across the Attribute table to find the DATE field in the last column.
      22 Historic Yellowstone fires table
    3. Click on the DATE field and to Sort Ascending to find the first fire of 1988. Then switch to Sort Descending to find the last fire of 1988.
      23 last fire shown in table

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

top of page

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 mapwindow 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 Analyzebutton and choose Select ... By Value Select records from Historic Yellowstone Fires whose FIRENAME matches North Fork. Click OK
      25 analyze NF fire
    2. 827 records are selected on the map.
      26 827 selected
    3. To find out how many acres were burned by the North Fork Fire, click the Statistics statistics button button in the Map window.
    4. In the Statistics Window look at the "Sum" field. The Statistics Results shows the Total number of acres at 531,225.4493.
      28 statistics window

  • Close the Statistics window.
  • 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.

top of page

Discover Which Yellowstone Facilities were Threatened by the Fires

top of page

Select the North Fork fire

  • Make the Historic Yellowstone Fires layer active by clicking on its name in the Layer List.
  • Click the Analyze tab 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 Fires layer active, click the Analyze tab and choose Select ... By Value . Select records from Historic Yellowstone Fires whose FIRENAME matches North Fork. Click OK
    25 analyze NF fire
top of page

Buffer the fire to select facilities that were within two miles of the fire

  1. Click the Analyze tab to open the Analyze window.
  2. In the Analyze window, choose the Make Buffer Around... buffer icon option. Set the Buffer Distance to 2 Miles Set the Buffer to Outside, with interior. Click the "Dissolve All Buffers" radio button. Accept the Default result name and click OK.
    29 Analyze Window
  3. A buffer will be drawn on the map. Edit the appearance of the buffer to a Magenta color that is 50% transparent.
    30 edit appearance of buffer

top of page

Find out how many facilities were threatened by the fire

  1. Complete a containment query to find the Yellowstone facilities within this boundary.
  2. Single click on the Yellowstone Facilities label in the Layer List and select the Table of Layer button. In the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table that opens, click on any field and sort the data ascending.
  3. 59 Yellowstone Facilities were threatened by the North Fork Fire.
    32 threatened by fire

top of page

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 Data Library pull down menu and select the Yellowstone Data Library. Add other data sets from the data folder to the map 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 exploring, click the Delete Selection button.

top of page

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?
top of page

Fire: just part of nature?

  • Switch to the Yellowstone Data Library and add the Yellowstone Fire Starts layer. 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 Data Library pull down menu, select Yellowstone Fire Starts. Click OK.
    2. Here is the Yellowstone Fire Starts. layer on the map.
      34 fire starts on map
    3. Double click on the Yellowstone Fire Starts label in the Layer List and select Table of Layer. Scroll across the table to see what fields it contains.
      35 fire starts attribute table
    4. Double click on the Yellowstone Fire Starts. label in the Layer List to open the Edit Appearance window. Choose the following options:
      • Draw features using: Y_CAUSE
      • Color Scheme: Random
      • Shape: Square
      • Size: 30%
      • 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. lightning).
      • Click Apply and click Close

      36 fires starts edited
    5. Turn on the Yellowstone Roads layer by clicking the checkbox to the left of its name in the Layer List.
    6. Turn off the Historic Yellowstone Fires layer. 37 roads on Historic fires off

  • 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.
top of page

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 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.
      38 Smoker fires
    2. Zoom into a selected point. Measure from the road to the point.
      39 measure to

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.




top of page

Explore More if your have Time

The Fires in the Northwest US 2001-2008

  • Turn of all layers except the NW States and U.S. States layers on 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 Appearance of the TriStateFires 01-08.shp to the following:
      • Draw features using: First_Year
      • Colorscheme: Yellow-Red
      • Fill Color Count: 7
      • Classify By: Equal Interval
      • Make the Outline Color Transparent
      • Click Apply and Close.
      1. Click the Data Library pull down menu, navigate to the YellowstoneFireData folder, and select TriStateFires 01-08.shp layer.
        [thumbnail XXXX 550]
      2. Set the Appearance of the TriStateFires 01-08.shp to the following:
        • Set the Appearance of the TriStateFires 01-08.shp to the following:
          • Draw features using: First_Year
          • Colorscheme: Yellow-Red
          • Fill Color Count: 7
          • Classify By: Equal Interval
          • Make the Outline Color Transparent
          • Click Apply and Close.

          41 edit appearance
        • This is the completed map of TriStates Fires, 2001-2008.
          42 tri states fire on 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?


top of page

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)