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

  • 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?

  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.
  • 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.
    7 parks on

    Yellowstone Park and Federal Lands

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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

    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.
  • 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?
  • Close the Attributes of Yellowstone Facilities table.

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    Search for a feature you might want to visit

    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

    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

    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
  • 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

    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

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

    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?
  • Estimate what percentage of Yellowstone National Park burned in 1988.
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    Discover Which Yellowstone Facilities were Threatened by the Fires

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    Select the North Fork fire

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

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    Find out how many facilities were threatened by the fire

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    Repeat this process on the Clover-Mist and Hellroaring Fires

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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.

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    Fire: just part of nature?

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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?

    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

    3. 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

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