Wildland Fire Monitoring

Top: Thick coniferous and deciduous forest; Bottom: Open meadow with flowers and scattered trees.
Monitoring photo point at Mill Mountain, Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Fen #1 monitoring shows pre-management on 9/13/11 (top) and post-management on 9/19/2013 (bottom).


Monitoring is the orderly collection, analysis, and interpretation of environmental data to evaluate progress toward meeting objectives, and to identify changes in natural systems (NPS Fire Monitoring Handbook). Monitoring is part of the adaptive management cycle, a systematic approach for improving resource management by learning from management outcomes. Objectives, or desired outcomes, determine what and how we monitor. Then, we measure conditions and changes over time that will evaluate progress toward meeting or achieving these objectives. Results from monitoring efforts help us stay informed about the effects of management actions and also provide a basis for changing actions, if needed.

A firefighter writes on an piece of paper near a large log, while a fire burns with small flames nearby.
One of the ways of monitoring a fire is through direct observation for things such as flame length.


When managing fire, monitoring is used in many different situations and takes a variety of forms. Direct observations of fire behavior can tell us if burning conditions are meeting our expectations. Consistent weather recording on the ground, including temperature, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity, can help predict any changes that may affect the fire. By monitoring smoke in certain affected areas, we can also better determine whether air quality and visibility conditions during fires meet safety and health standards.

Two members of fire staff in burned area with tape measure.
Bandelier fire ecology personnel collect fuels data after a prescribed fire.

NPS photo by Bandelier fire ecology staff

Recording and measuring vegetation on the ground before fires and then again in a time sequence after burning allows us to quantify the effects of fire, such as the changes in numbers and types of trees, shrubs, and other plants following fire.

With indirect monitoring, such as remote sensing using satellite imagery, we can accurately map the area burned as well as examine patterns of fire severity across the landscape.
A man in NPS uniform uses a shovel on a slope while another man is nearby.
Big Hole National Battlefield superintendent Steve Black helps Glacier fire ecologist Dennis Divoky install soil temperature sensors before a prescribed fire.


Monitoring is critical to successful fire management. Using data collected and analyzed with varying monitoring techniques, we gather valuable information to help plan and make decisions about on-going, as well as future fires.

Last updated: June 8, 2017