Building Fireline Downhill With Fire Below

Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
May 2020


As a general rule, construct line moving uphill. Many firefighters have lost their lives attacking wildland fires from above. If there is no practical alternative to constructing line downhill, proceed only after weighing the following considerations:

  • Has the area been scouted for fire perimeter and behavior? Discuss what you need to know about the fire perimeter and fire behavior before building fireline downhill with fire below.
  • Will wind direction be at your back? Will it stay at your back? Talk about how winds can change when you are on a slope (e.g., time of day, upslope and down slope breezes, etc.).
  • Is the area free of chimneys and gullies? How would you negotiate your line location if there were chimneys and gullies below where you needed to be working?
  • Are there adequate safety zones and escape routes as you progress downhill? How do you maintain adequate safety zones and escape routes as you progress downhill?
  • Can you carry your burnout downhill as you go to provide an anchor point and safety zones? Discuss how you decide when to carry the burnout with you or wait until you have tied in down below.
  • Have lookouts been posted? What do the lookouts need to be on the watch for?
  • Do you have good communications, especially with lookouts and crews working towards you? What are some of the dangers of not communicating with lookouts and crews working towards you? What are the benefits of maintaining good communications?
  • Can the line be completed and burned out before the fire reaches the line? Discuss how this would affect where you locate the line.  
  • Do you have adequate resources to complete the assignment? What additional resources might you need to safely take on an assignment that includes building fireline downhill with fire below? How many resources do you want to engage?
  • Is aerial support available if needed? What benefits can aerial resources provide? What might be an added danger from aerial resources in this type of situation? (Common Denominators.)
  • Has everyone been briefed on the assignment, fire behavior, weather, communications, escape routes and safety zones, hazards and tactics? Discuss who might provide this briefing, where they are getting their information, and where and when it might occur.


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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