National Wildfire Coordinating Group

RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)

Assessing the Fire Environment to Anticipate Fire Behavior

RT-130 Decorative banner. Group of photos depicting wildland firefighters performing various duties.

Good situational awareness is a cornerstone of good decision making. Assessing the fire environment is a key component of the Situational Awareness Cycle for wildland firefighters.
Category: Fire-Environment
Core Component(s): Fire and Aviation Operational Safety;
Human Factors, Communication and Decision Making

Estimated Delivery Time: 40 minutes; Video Length: 14:46



Utilizing factors identified on the NWCG Fire Environment Poster, PMS 439, and the Look Up, Down, and Around principles, describe a step-by-step process to assess the fire environment and anticipate the next big changes in fire behavior.

Facilitator Preparation

  • Review the video and module tools.
  • Print or display the Cheat Sheet Companion to How to Assess the Fire Environment to Anticipate Fire Behavior and explore the digital information sources listed in the online resources column.
  • Print or display the NWCG Fire Environment Poster, PMS 439.
  • Reference the Look Up, Down and Around principles in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461. Provide copies of the IRPG for students to utilize and answer questions.

Facilitating the Discussion

  • Show the video.
  • Facilitate a discussion after each phase of the video, using the Cheat Sheet as a guide. Consider pausing the video after each of the three phases to initiate a review of the topics.
  • Use the NWCG Fire Environment Poster, PMS 439 as a discussion reference.

Discussion Questions

Phase 1: Before an Assignment 2:28-5:55

  • What information sources are used to evaluate forecasts? To review yesterday’s activity? And to anticipate today’s problems?
  • Identify information sources available that were not listed in the module.

Phase 2: Assigned and En Route 5:56-8:57

  • What tools are used to get on-scene weather and fire information?
    • Evaluate maps and photos.
    • Ask for a spot forecast.
    • Interpret sky and smoke.
  • Identify strengths/weaknesses of these tools and how/when each may be best used.

Phase 3: On-Scene Fire Assessment 8:58-12:38

  • What methods are used to determine the current situation, including:
    • What fuel and terrain are ahead of the fire?
    • How to verify forecast and request updates?
    • How to determine escape route and safety zone requirements?
  • Identify existing references to assist you with these methods.

Big Change Factor Clues 12:39-13:38

  • Which clues determine what the next big change will look like and where/how fast it will occur?
  • How do you determine if it is time to act or time to move to safety and wait it out?
  • Identify big change factor clues in your local area.


Additional Video Information

This video is also available as a download. (Size 982 MB)
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