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Pyrosketchology is an approach for building awareness of the fire environment through observations, sketching and nature journaling practices. The book is intended as a guide to create deeper awareness and educational support for fire-adapted living. If you are an educator looking for creative outdoor exercises, a nature enthusiast looking for interesting information about the fire environment, a property owner looking for ways to understand and evaluate your fire environment or a firefighter/practitioner looking to enhance your observation skill this book is for you.

Each chapter of the book is available in a free PDF format that can be printed only for individual educational use.

Book illustrations may be licensed, with a small fee, for limited educational and not-for-profit purposes. Use the contact form to discuss and request use. 

Pyrosketchology Program: Image

Thank You

I am so grateful for the support and assistance with developing this book. Thank you Marian Kile for your editing support. Thank you Coleen Haskell and others for your fire and weather technical review. Thank you John Muir Laws and others for your review and support on the nature journaling and visual elements.

Pyrosketchology Program: Text

Fire Environment 

I define the fire environment as the mix of elements that influence fire combustion and behavior in the “natural” landscape. Weather, topography and fuels (vegetation) are the primary elements of the fire behavior triangle which is a large focus of this book, but I also include the broader topics of fire seasons, fire ignitions, fire mitigation, fire effects and fire regimes as a means to unfold the complexities and deeper understanding of fire.

Pyrosketchology Program: Text

Nature Journaling

Nature journaling is the personal practice of documenting nature observations. This is not a new approach but something that has been used by many scientists, explorers, naturalists and artists throughout time. We may have new technologies that allow us to document observations and track information but the science has shown that in-nature and hands-on practices are a better learning approach. 

I learned about nature journaling from John Muir Laws, an artists, educator and naturalist that has written several books. He also leads a number of annual conferences and monthly workshops, along with social media sites to support educators and nature journalers. He has developed simple approaches to build curiosity and connections with nature, integrating deeper learning practices. He recommends using a mix of pictures, numbers and words to describe your observations. He also includes key observation prompts such as “I notice…”, “I wonder…”, and “It reminds me of…” 

Pyrosketchology Program: Text

Sensemaking & Situational Awareness

One of the goals of pyrosketchology is to help develop a better sense of place, which includes fire. Sensemaking is something we develop naturally as we interact with the places where we live, work and play. Our sense of place is usually framed around our values, experiences and education. Thus, our sense of place can be biased and lacking in ecological connections and the context of fire. Nature journaling is a helpful tool in expanding our sense of place through curiosity, questions and detailed observations. 

Another focus of the book is on developing situational awareness (SA). SA is most often associated with the observations and activities that can inform us about some level of threat, hazard and or risk. People working in science laboratories, zoos, fishing boats or fire management have specific situational awareness considerations for their activities. Consider how someone that is knowledgeable about wolf behavior will know that when the ears are pinned back against the head, there is a higher level of threat. By learning these cues they can decide what to do next. By learning about the observations and cues pertaining to fire hazards and risks we can develop ways to adapt to fire as a natural part of the landscape. 

SA is developed through keen awareness and the ongoing attention to environmental cues that can help us predict and respond to threats. A part of this process is to compare past and present observations and to analyze trends that can help you predict how situations may unfold over time. In the fire environment we can use some of the fire behavior principles and environmental indicators as a baseline to help us make general estimates for potential fire behaviors and hazard levels. The foundational observations occur before a fire event, with the during and after fire observations used to compare with the baseline indicators. In the following chart, I have summarized the fire sensemaking and situational awareness elements.

Pyrosketchology Program: Text

Chapter 1: Introduction


  • Fire Environment    

  • Nature Journaling    

  • Sensory Engagement    

  • Sensemaking & Situational Awareness

  • Analyzing Observations & Reactions  

  • Meaningful Metadata 

  • Fire Behavior Indicators    

  • Journaling Emotions    

  • References   


Chapter 2: Fire Weather


  • Heat & Humidity

  • Sensing Air Temperature

  • Insect Thermometers

  • Humidity in Shades of Blue

  • Heat Transfer—Dark & Light Landscapes  

  • Temperature & Air Pressure 

  • Jet Stream Winds

  • Cloud Families, Levels & Movements

  • Wind Shear

  • Cloud & Wind Journaling Exercise

  • Journaling Clouds at a Distance

  • Atmospheric Stability & Instability

  • Stable Atmosphere

  • Unstable Atmosphere

  • Weather Fronts

  • Warm Front Summary

  • Cold Front Summary

  • High Ridge Breakdown

  • Journaling Weather Fronts- A Time Series

  • Weather Front Maps

  • Thunderstorms

  • Lightning

  • Key Thunderstorm Observations

  • Journaling Thunderstorms

  • Orographic Clouds & Winds

  • Diurnal Terrain Winds 

  • Land & Sea Breezes

  • Open & Filtered Winds

  • Funneled Winds—Forest Chimneys

  • Formed by Winds—Past Winds

  • Griggs-Putnam Wind Deformation Index

  • Felt Winds—Beaufort Wind Force

  • Journaling Wind Force Observations

  • Wind Situational Awareness

  • Positional Awareness

  • References

Chapter 3: Topography



  • Slope Aspect

  • Slope Angle

  • Biometric Slope Estimates

  • Terrain Feature

  • Landscape Distance & Depth


Chapter 4: Fire Fuels


  • Fuel Groups—Fire Carrying Fuels

  • Horizontal & Vertical Fuels Arrangement

  • Forestry Biometric Measurements

  • Tree Canopy Cover

  • Fuel Beds

  • Fine Fuels

  • Dead Fuel Moisture- Time Lags

  • Estimating Fuel Moisture

  • Dead Fuel Moisture Snap Test

  • Pine Cone Indicators

  • Leaf Shape & Fuel Bed Flammability

  • Live Fuel Moisture & Vapor Pressure Deficit

  • Multi-Sensory Observations

  • Detailed Fuels Observations

  • Combining Fire Environment Observations


Chapter 5: Fire Seasons


  • Fire Seasons

  • Seasonal Sunlight

  • Seasonal Shadows

  • Fire Season Starting Conditions

  • Fire Season Ending Conditions

  • Seasonal Weather Systems & Patterns

  • North American (Southwest) Monsoon

  • Lightning

  • Journaling Seasonal Lightning Observations

  • Lightning Scars

  • Other Fire Season Scenarios

  • California Thermal Low

  • Great Basin High

  • Weather Wheel & Fire Trends

  • Temperature & Climate Graph

  • Journaling Seasonal Temperatures

  • Journaling Seasonal Winds

  • Journaling Seasonal Rain

  • Observing Fire Season Rain Events

  • Combining Weather Elements

  • Vapor Pressure Deficit & Phenology

  • Energy Release Component

  • Journaling Phenology

  • Seasonal Fuels Curing 

  • Seasonal Sensory Observations


Chapter 6: Fire Ignitions & Prevention


  • Fire Ignitions

  • Fire Prevention

  • Journaling Fire History

  • Landscape Patches & Patterns

  • Burn Scars

  • Lighting Ignition Indicators

  • Human-Caused Ignitions

  • Campfire Cause Indicators

  • Fire Cause Consequences

  • Vehicle & Equipment Cause Indicators

  • Fireworks Cause Indicators

  • Cigarette & Match Cause Indicators

  • Journaling When Ignitions Occur

  • Fuel Bed Factors

  • Weather Factors

  • Journaling Ignition Factors

  • Journaling Campfire Safety

  • Journaling Potential Fire Areas

  • Estimating the Fire Origin Area

  • Fire Ignition & Prevention Story

  • References


Chapter 7: Wildfire Mitigation & Readiness


  • Fire Mitigation

  • Collaborative Planning

  • Visual Vocabulary

  • Goals & Objectives

  • Hazard Mitigation Treatments

  • Home Defensible Space

  • Fire Embers

  • Plant Fire Hazard Traits

  • Mitigation Measurements

  • Defensible Space Measurements

  • Journaling Defensible Space

  • Journaling Ember Sources & Nests

  • Fire Mitigation Timing

  • Grassland Curing & Treatment Timing

  • Fire Mitigation Calendar

  • Stripped-down Story

  • Journaling the Story Exercise

  • Phased Story Panels

  • Journaling Goat Grazing

  • Goat Sketching Tips

  • Wildfire Readiness

  • Readiness Calendar

  • Wildfire Evacuation Planning

  • Journaling Your Evacuation Route

  • References


Chapter 8: Fire & Smoke


  • The Fire Triangle

  • Visual Inspiration

  • When & Where to Journal Active Fire Pyrolysis & Combustion

  • Journaling Flame Shape & Color Heat & Light Transfer

  • Other Sensory Observations Journaling Campfire Combustion Flame Colors

  • Fire Acoustics

  • Landscape/Wildland Fire

  • Fire Anatomy

  • Fire Behaviors

  • Fire Measurements

  • Flame Length

  • Fire Intensity

  • Fire Rate of Spread

  • Fire Shape—Origin Area

  • Fire Shaped by Wind Speed

  • Visualizing Fire

  • Basic Fire Types & Behaviors

  • Ground Fires

  • Surface Fires

  • Intensifying Fire Behaviors

  • Running

  • Torching

  • Spotting

  • Flare-up

  • Crowning

  • Fire Whirls

  • Extreme Fire Behaviors

  • Eruption

  • Vorticity-Channeled-Lateral Fire

  • Fire Storms

  • Ember Storms

  • Conflagrations & Mega Fires

  • Fire Tornados

  • Smoke Observations

  • Smoke Color Indicators

  • Smoke Consistency, Volume & Shape Indicators

  • Smoke Plume Height Indicators

  • Smoke Plume Size & Shape

  • Smoke Plume Shape & Weather

  • Journaling Smoke Observations

  • Journaling Smoke Comparisons

  • Journaling Smoke & Air Quality

  • Air Quality Sketches

  • Prescribed Fire

  • Prescribed Fire Anatomy

  • Fire Ignition Test

  • Prescribed Fire Ignition Tactics

  • Opportunities for Journaling Prescribed Fire

  • Prescribed Fire Journal Template

  • Sketching a Silhouette Person & Fire

  • Other Prescribed Fire Journaling Approaches

  • Fire Data Graphs

  • Other Wildfire Journaling Approaches

  • Journaling Wildfire Smoke & Air Quality

  • Journaling Social & Emotional Observations

  • References


Chapter 9: Fire Severity, Patterns & Effects

  • Fire Severity

  • Fire Severity Maps

  • Online Burn Severity Map Viewing

  • Sketching Landscape Burn Severity

  • Observing & Estimating Fire Severity

  • Vegetation & Soil Severity

  • Tall to Intermediate Sized Tree Severity

  • Small Tree to Tall Bush Severity

  • Tiny Tree, Shrub & Grass Severity

  • Ground & Soil Fire Severity

  • Ground Hydrophobicity

  • Watershed Effects

  • Water Color

  • Journaling Fire Severity Observations

  • Fire Severity Journal Template

  • Fire Patterns Indicator

  • FPI Overview

  • Landscape Pattern Indicators

  • Fire Perimeter Shape

  • Scene Pattern Indicators

  • Tree Transitions

  • Dark & Light Areas

  • Grass Area Patterns

  • Ash Color

  • Close-up Pattern Indicators

  • Grass Stems

  • White Ash

  • Angle of Char

  • Protection

  • Foliage Freeze & Angle of Scorch

  • Staining

  • Spalling

  • Collective Tree FPIs

  • Collective Surface FPIs

  • Optional FPI Symbols & Codes

  • Optional FPI Journal Template

  • Fire Effects—Ecological Gains & Losses

  • First & Second Order Effects

  • Habitat Zones & Escape Strategies

  • Journaling Fire Effects

  • Cold Canyon Fire Journals--Green Shoots, and Silver Linings

  • Tree Mortality Phases

  • References


Chapter 10: Ecoregions & Fire Regimes

  Table of Contents:

  • Ecoregions

  • Journaling Ecoregions

  • Fire Regimes

  • Fire Size

  • Journaling Fire Size

  • Fire Types & Severities

  • Fire Complexity

  • Patchiness

  • Journaling Patchiness

  • Patch Size

  • Fire Frequency & Return Intervals

  • Journaling Fire Frequency & Return Intervals

  • Tree Rings & Fire Frequency

  • Fire Synchrony

  • Fire Seasonality

  • Climate Trends & Seasonality

  • Journaling Fire Seasonality

  • Landscape Patterns

  • Ecological Succession

  • Journaling Ecological Changes

  • Journaling Landscape Patterns

  • Seasonal Patterns—Tree Phenology

  • Observing Tree Stress, Injury & Death

  • Observing Tree & Forest Recovery

  • Plant Traits & Fire Regimes

  • Tree Foliage Traits

  • Journaling Foliage Flammability Traits

  • Bark & Branch Traits

  • Journaling Bark & Branch Traits

  • Root Structures & Sprouting Traits

  • Journaling Root & Sprout Traits

  • Vegetation Communities & Fire Regimes

  • Multi-Sensory Observations

  • Fire Followers

  • Journaling Fire Followers

  • Animals & Fire Regimes

  • Ecoacoustics

  • Journaling Acoustic Observations

  • Sound Maps

  • Humans & Fire Regimes

  • Journaling Human-Fire Relationships

  • References

Pyrosketchology Program: Featured Work
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