A Questioning Exercise

Firefighters have some teaching that may lead to beliefs about information that is used to predict fire behavior changes.  It is these believes that are responsible for many firefighters becoming trapped by unexpected changes in the fires behavior.  In an effort to reduce the unexpected fire behavior situations this exercise using a questioning strategy is written. The purpose of this exercise is to combine your intuition and logic to fully explain what you believe.

The main question is:  Do crew-leaders have enough fire behavior knowledge to predict normal variations in fire behavior to assure them of safe leadership on wildfire situations?


Fire danger the relative danger of a fire in an area.
Fire behavior is the differences of fire signatures in a specific area of the fire ground and is time sensitive.


  • Which do you rely on, fire danger or fire behavior, to determine your assigned wildland fire tactic?
  • What are the causes of changes in fire behavior?
  • Where on the fire-ground does air temperature or humidity cause changes in fire behavior?
  • Does solar radiation have a larger effect on fuel moisture than humidity?
  • How would you call a difference between fuel in the sun and fuel in the shade?
  • Why do solar radiated forest fuels burn differently than shaded fuels?
  • Are tactics different between types of fires?
  • Can you describe a fire by type and use the appropriate tactical approach for suppression?
  • Why is timing of a tactical plan important?
  • At what time of day are there more extremes in fire behavior and why?
  • If you have a map of a fire perimeter, can you describe the future of the fire? “What is the fire telling you?”
  • When you fly or observe a wildland fire what information are you gathering and for what purpose?
  • Pick a map of a wildland fire showing perimeters or spread perimeters and describe what information you gain from the map.
  • How can you tell where the fire behavior changes will go beyond the threshold of control or safety?
  • Can you identify by a symbol or a word these points on a map?
  • Can you assign a word for a predicted head fire signature?
  • Can you make a fire behavior prediction on where and when the fire behavior thresholds of control will change?
  • Do you have a language to explain the cause of fire behavior change as well as the cause, timing and location of a potential run?
  • If you do not know how the fire behavior will change are you at risk?
  • If you cannot explain your prediction can you share your prediction effectively?
  • Should a designated lookout have the knowledge and experience to provide safety by the observations made?

Please evaluate this assignment and communicate your thoughts to

To obtain more knowledge in the subject please refer to


By:  Doug Campbell

Wildland Fire Burnovers: More or Less?

Using the Experience of Wildland Firefighters

There are many experienced wildland firefighters who have learned the art of wildland fire fighting.  These individuals have vital safety procedures and knowledge that could be made available.

Also, a number of important programs have been invented that, when implemented, add to the safety of wildland firefighters. Some of the programs are:

  1. The Campbell Prediction System (CPS) that teaches how to think, and predict fire behavior changes and when an attack can prevail or fail.
  1. Drill programs that assures crews and individuals can perform to an acceptable standard before dispatch.
  1. The Wildland Management Tool (WMT) that improves calculations of BEHAVE and incorporates new language and concepts.
  1. Field Leadership training improvements that establish valid and appropriate standards.
  1. Mission and Vision statements to guide decision making. The Mission is what you do, the Vision is what do you want to become. Establishing Mission and Vision statements for all who direct people should be a standard requirement. Supervisors should review and council their folks in order to school them in the necessity of acceptable statements.  Some accidents can be traced back to the M&V of individuals who have poor missions and visions.
    • Statements of “becoming the best” had better have a scale or that is simply a foolish wish.
    • Do supervisors or accident investigators inquire as to the M&V of leadership folks?

Do all individuals know and demonstrate how they determine when and where a wildland fire will change and become subject to control or not?  Can they name the training program they depend on to assure the action they propose to control wildland fire situations is safe and effective?

The administration–from the Supervisors level to the national centers of wildfire administration–does not incorporate these improvements.  As they are presented to the administration, the ideas are resisted or discounted at one of the levels of the fire management system.

There seems to be no program to incorporate such improvements into the overall program. When the originators of any change of thinking retire or give up, the improvements are lost or halted at the next level above the ground troops.

This note is intended to bring this situation to light. There is no program to capture new and important information and incorporate it into the national system for all who fight the wildfires. All can benefit from knowledge gained over years of doing the job.

One thing that I have observed is that there is no oversight for the District unit management that helps the to bring their unit up to a known standard.

My mission and vision has been to improve and make wildland fire fighting and management safer for the firefighter and to employ the knowledge that has been developed by firefighters.

A recommended path to this mission and vision would be to employ a task force of people who have provided improvements to the system to gather the knowledge and implement the findings with the full support of the Secretary of Agriculture and the president of the United States of America.

The results of this plan will reduce the hazard to wildland firefighters.  To disregard this is an admission by the agencies of a resistance to the changes needed to reduce wildfire accidents.


Respectfully submitted to whom it may concern.

— Doug Campbell. Retired US Forest Service.

Commentary on the 10 Firefighting Orders

Are there Holes in the 10 Firefighting Orders?

How do you give an order and not give any instruction? Having a firefighting order used to be an “order” but now it’s only a recommendation, and there’s no instruction on how to do it. This document explains how to do it.

Questioned by the numbers:

#1 Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.

What should be done when a weather forecast is made?  Overhead must determine the importance of this information to the tactical plans and action on the fire. In the South Canyon fire and the Yarnell fire this was not recognized as important by the resources and overhead. In each of these cases it was an oversight and/or ignored by overhead and crew-leaders.

The overhead is responsible for determining what will happen to the fire, identifying where there are trigger points for changing fire behavior, and estimating when and where the thresholds-of-control are when the forecast comes true. The tactical changes need to be the result of the evaluation of the forecasts. The FBAN needs to recommend changes to the tactical plan when weather forecasts indicate the need.

The Campbell Prediction System is one way to accomplish the fire behavior location and threshold-of-control estimates.

This situation needs serious consideration as well as other ways to abate the risks. 

#2 Know what your fire is doing at all times.

To accomplish this order you must make observations a current and frequently reoccurring task.  Not only observe, but also have the training and ability to explain the cause and effect of forces acting on the fire behavior. If you cannot identify the cause of observed changes in the fire behavior, then you cannot determine what the fire will do in the short term.

It is important to identify the dominant force acting on the fire as well as the alignment-of-forces in various places on the fireground. Each dominant force has a corresponding tactical match.

Wind driven, topography, or fuels dominated fires need different tactical plans to have the best chance of success. This determination is the first step in the tactical approach.

Recognizing the alignment-of-forces that cause variations in fire behavior is a way to determine when and where significant changes will occur.  The fire-signatures of the head, flanks and heel are indications of what the fire behavior will be in similar alignments of force.

Simple techniques, like identifying the alignment-of-forces and the dominate force, are important skills to develop for evaluating situations on the fireground..

Just because one thinks they are obeying the rules does not insure they can avoid the risks.

#3 Base your actions on current and expected fire behavior.

How are firefighters expected to accomplish this task? This is another weak spot in the system.

The BEHAVE program is not something the crew persons are trained in as well as most crew supervisors.  So that is not an option for prediction in the field.

The Campbell Prediction System is one way to be more accurate in the prediction of fire behavior.

Prediction needs to be studied and made into a more defined art.

#4 Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.

This a good idea but has proven to be more difficult than expected. The occurrence of fatality fires show that this is not fool proof.

Scientists have been attempting to determine the size of a safety area for a long time.  Without knowing how to predict the fire intensity of the exposure this calculation is weak.

This order is in need of study and should not be ignored.  Is oversight of this needed on fires?

#5 Post a lookout when there is danger.

What are the qualifications for a lookout?  None except that the supervisor of the unit trusts the lookout person to know what to look out for. This is a weak spot in the organization.

Should that position be considered for special training and certified for a red card?

#6 Be alert, be calm.  Think clearly, act decisively.

A good rule, requiring logic over emotion in hazardous situations.  How to promote this is a good question.  Is the “can do” attitude an emotional one or a logical one?  Fire is a hook for an emotional response that can be dangerous and does not provide for safety first.  Test for this in drills to determine the dominance of logic over emotion.  A number of exercises have been used to accomplish this.

A well designed drill program will expose and limit the emotional response that is dangerous.

#7 Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor and adjoining forces.

At times when this cannot be accomplished should the action stop and the situation be remedied?

The last crew fatality showed a breakdown in communications that was serious. If this situation is repeated on a fire should the supervisor stop aggressive action from units confronting the fire?  An act of omission here is a serious fault.  The order identifies what should be done but not what to do if it cannot be done.

This is a big hole in the system.

#8 Give clear instructions and be sure they are understood.

Training on how to read the fire and understand what it is telling you is important.  If you cannot do this then how can you give clear instructions and understanding be assured?

Training in the language explaining cause and effect on fire behavior will be an assist in accomplishing this instruction.

#9 Maintain control of your forces at all times.

This order is considered to be a good thing, but is it always?

If the supervisor is correct in the estimation of the situation it is a good idea.  But if the supervisor is wrong, like in the most resent fatality of an entire hotshot crew it is deadly wrong.

In this case the whole hand-crew and division supervisor died because the unit was well controlled.  What if a crewperson decided that the order to go downhill in the green was too dangerous a tactic and refused to comply?

Without the explanation of what the concern was based on the person who was correct in the situation will be controlled.

Are crew persons trained to deal with confronting this?  The last crew fatality proves the question is valid.  The crew leader needs to maintain control or the crew falls apart.  If the person who is disagreeing with the proposed tactic cannot change the leader’s intent and follows the crew, and dies, where is the fault in this situation?  More work needs to be done here to insure there is improvement in the leader’s evaluation of the situation and the leader’s recognition of individual concerns.  Answering the concern and keeping control of the crew might be to adjust the tactic.

Is it ever appropriate for “every man for himself”?

#10 Fight fire aggressively having provided for safety first.

For each individual to use his or her own ideas here is not the best idea.  The fatality fires of note had more aggressive fight than safety.  Safety first should first be able explain how the selected tactic is safe, and then depend upon aggressive and physical fitness to follow.

How to provide safety is the question here.

This is written in the hope to improve the risk evaluation.

— Doug Campbell