National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Observing Current Fire Behavior

  1. Visual Fire Behavior Descriptions
  2. Observing Flame Length vs. Flame Height
  3. Rate of Spread Estimator
  4. Fire Behavior Observation Reports

Visual Fire Behavior Descriptions

This guide identifies key terms for describing fire behavior and provides reference imagery and descriptive detail to aid observation reports.

Fire Observation/Description.

Observing Flame Length vs. Flame Height

Observing Flames, as proxy for fireline intensity and indicator of tactical limitations, requires careful observation of flame length versus flame height. It is also important to identify whether the observation is for head, flank, or back of the fire.

Flame Length: The distance measured from the average flame tip to the middle of the active flaming zone at the base of the fire. It is measured on a slant when the flames are tilted due to effects of wind and slope.

Flame Height: The average height of flames as measured vertically, up, and down. It is estimated by comparing the flame to a nearby object of known height. Flame height is needed to estimate spot distance from a burning pile.

Flame length is commonly estimated and referenced as analogous to the fireline intensity one would feel at the actively burning perimeter.  Flame Height, on the other hand, is what most observers commonly report.  Encourage users to identify and observe correctly.

Rate of Spread Estimator

From the NWCG Standards for Wildland Fire Module Operations, PMS 430.

Fireline observers can use this table to look up a spread rate based on how long it takes the flaming front to move a given distance.

Estimating Rate of Spread.

Fire Behavior Observation Reports

Fire Behavior Observation Form.


PRINT FBFRG Observing Current Fire Behavior


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