National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Fire Not Scouted and Sized Up


1. Fire not scouted and sized up. A firefighter surrounded by green vegetation looks through binoculars in one direction.  Far behind him is smoke from a wildland fire.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.

Wildland firefighters scout and size up all incidents to gain situational awareness before beginning fire suppression. This Watch Out shows a firefighter too far away to effectively describe the specific fire behavior, fuel types, and weather conditions on the fire.

Read about all 18 Watch Out Situations.

Watch Out Situation #1 is an issue during initial attack and every time new resources arrive at a fire.

Before taking action on the fire, address the following:

  • Can you personally observe the fire, or should you use scouts?
    • Describe ways you can scout and size up a fire.
  • Do you know the location of the fire perimeter?
    • Discuss situations when the fire perimeter may not be obvious (unburned sections due to spot fires, etc.).
  • Do you know the direction of fire spread? When isn’t the direction of fire spread obvious (wind shifts, spot fires, etc.)?
  • Does the direction of fire spread increase risk?
    • Talk about situations where you may have to approach the head of the fire (hiking down from a helispot, approaching from an existing road, erratic winds, etc.).
  • Do you know the fuels and their condition? What kind of information will you assume from what you already know about fuel types (spot fires in fir, extreme fire potential in flashy fuels, etc.)?
  • What information can aerial resources provide about the fire?
  • Do topographic hazards exist? What can you assume from the kind of terrain near and within the fire perimeter (slope, chimneys, aspect, etc.)?
  • Does enough information exist to establish a plan of attack? When do you have enough information to begin fighting fire? What do you need to know?
  • Do other dangers exist? Have you talked about factors specific to the work area (hunters in the vicinity, drought conditions, snag patches, etc.)?

To reduce the risks:

  • Post lookouts until the fire is sized up and escape routes and safety zones are established.
  • Retreat if the situation is too complex. Review fires where you had to wait until your assigned area of the fire was scouted and sized up before you were allowed onto the fireline.


Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022

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