National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Building Fireline Downhill With Fire Below


9. Building fireline downhill with fire below. Three firefighters use tools to dig fireline down a steep slope covered in grass and brush.  Large flames are below them as the fire burns uphill.

9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.

Building fireline downhill requires special attention to safety factors because of the potential for rapid uphill fire spread. This Watch Out depicts firefighters building fireline downhill without first mitigating the existing hazards.

Read about all 18 Watch Out Situations.

As a 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 the 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 downslope 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 want to work?
  • Are there adequate safety zones and escape routes? How do you maintain adequate safety zones and escape routes as you progress downhill?
  • Can you complete the burnout downhill as you work, providing an anchor point and safety zones? Discuss how you decide to carry the burnout with you or wait until you have tied into a fireline down below.
  • Have lookouts been posted? What should they be monitoring?
  • Have you established good communications? What are some of the dangers of poor communication with lookouts and crews working towards you? Describe the benefits of maintaining good communications.
  • Can the line be completed and burned out before the fire reaches it? 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 would receive their information, and where and when it might occur.


Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022

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