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
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?

  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.
  • 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.
    5 NW states added other layers

    Yellowstone Park and Federal Lands

    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

    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.
  • 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?
  • Close the Table of Layer "Yellowstone Facilities".

  • top of page

    Search for a feature you might want to visit

    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

    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
  • top of page

    Find campgrounds that resulted from the spatial query

    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
  • 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

    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

    top of page

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

    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?
  • Estimate what percentage of Yellowstone National Park burned in 1988.
  • top of page

    Discover Which Yellowstone Facilities were Threatened by the Fires

    top of page

    Select the North Fork fire

    top of page

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

    top of page

    Find out how many facilities were threatened by the fire

    top of page

    Repeat this process on the Clover-Mist and Hellroaring Fires

    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: top of page

    Fire: just part of nature?

    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?

    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

    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.

      top of page

      Explore More if your have Time

      The Fires in the Northwest US 2001-2008

    top of page


    « Previous Page      Next Page »