top of page
Pyrosketchology Program: Image

Pyrosketchology Guide

Pyrosketchology is an approach aimed at building awareness of the fire environment through observations, sketching, and nature journaling practices. You do not need artistic skills or knowledge of fire to use this guide. Whether you're an educator seeking creative outdoor exercises, a nature enthusiast interested in the fire environment, a property owner evaluating fire hazards, or a firefighter/practitioner aiming to enhance situational awareness, this guide will serve many purposes grounded in personal observation practices.

In pyrosketchology, journaling practices prioritize capturing field observations over creating realistic and artistic sketches. Given the limited time in the field, more artistic details can be omitted or added later, ensuring simplicity in field notes and sketches. I do share a number of techniques to help enhance some sketching and painting techniques for those interested in expanding their visualization skills.

The technical information presented has been synthesized and distilled for a general audience, with visuals stylized or simplified to support sensory observations and creative journaling practices. While the majority of observations and practices are intended for the outdoors, references to online resources and technologies are provided for expanded observation scales.

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. 

A free pdf file is available for individual educational purposes. 

Paperbacks can currently be ordered on 

Pyrosketchology Program: Image

Fire Environment 

The fire environment is defined as the mix of elements and conditions influencing fire ignition, combustion, and spread. Weather, topography, and fuels (vegetation) constitute the primary elements of the fire behavior triangle and the interactions between those are used to frame observations of the fire environment. Some pyrosketchology practices will focus only on individual elements within the fire behavior triangle, to enhance specific observation or journaling skills, while other observations require combined observations to build an overall sense of fire. All pyrosketchology observations should relate to at least one of the fire behavior triangle elements. Additionally, the guide includes broader topics such as fire seasons and regimes that are intended to help unravel the complexities of the fire environment and foster a deeper understanding of fire as a part of the earth systems.

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
Pyrosketchology Program: Text

Nature Journaling

Nature journaling, the personal practice of documenting nature observations, is not a new approach but a method employed by scientists, explorers, naturalists, and artists throughout history. Despite advancements in technology, in-nature and hands-on practices remain superior for building connection and learning about nature. John Muir Laws, an artist, educator, and naturalist, advocates for using a mix of pictures, numbers, and words to describe observations, along with journaling prompts like "I notice...," "I wonder...," and "It reminds me of…" to develop deeper observation and journaling skills. 
Laws has published a number of exceptional books with tips and techniques for learning and teaching about the practice of nature journaling that would be a great reference to accompany this guide.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Pyrosketchology Introduction

  • Pyrosketchology Guide

  • Nature Journaling 

  • Sensory Engagement 

  • Fire Environment 

  • Ecological Sensemaking 

  • Situational Awareness 

  • Meaningful Metadata

  • Observation Scales

  • Journaling Emotion

Chapter 2: Fire Weather

  • Fire Weather 

  • Sensing Heat & Humidity

  • Heat Transfer 

  • Global Temperatures & Jet Streams

  • Cloud Families, Levels & Movements

  • Wind Shear 

  • Temperature & Air Pressure

  • Troughs & Ridges

  • Weather Fronts

  • Thunderstorms

  • Atmospheric Stability & Instability

  • Orographic Clouds & Winds

  • Open & Filtered Winds

  • Funneled Winds—Forest Chimneys

  • Formed by Winds—Past Winds

  • Felt Winds — Beaufort Wind Force Scale

  • Wind Metadata, Maps & Graphs 

  • Wind Situational Awareness 

Chapter 3: Topography

  • Topography 

  • Elevation 

  • Vegetation Zones 

  • Slope Aspect 

  • Slope Angle 

  • Terrain Features 

  • Landscape Depth 

Chapter 4: Fire Fuels

  • Fire Fuels 

  • Fuel Groups—Fire Carrying Fuels 

  • Horizontal & Vertical Fuel Arrangements 

  • Forestry Biometric Measurements 

  • Tree Canopy Cover 

  • Fuel Beds 

  • Fine Fuels

  • Dead Fuel Moisture 

  • Live Fuel Moisture 

Chapter 5: Fire Seasons

  • United States Fire Seasons 

  • Seasonal Sunlight 

  • Seasonal Shadows 

  • Seasonal Temperatures 

  • Phenology & VPD 

  • Seasonal Fuels Curing

  • Seasonal Weather Patterns 

  • North American (Southwest) Monsoon 

  • Semipermanent Lows & Highs 

  • Seasonal Winds 

  • Seasonal Rain 

Chapter 6: Fire Ignitions & Prevention

  • Fire Ignitions 

  • Fire Prevention 

  • Fire History 

  • Fire Origin Area 

  • Lightning Ignition Indicators 

  • Human-Caused Ignition Indicators 

  • Ignition Timing Indicators 

  • Fire Ignition Areas 

  • Journaling Campfire Safety 

Chapter 7: Fire Mitigation & Readiness

  • Fire Mitigation 

  • Goals & Objectives 

  • Hazard Mitigation Treatments 

  • Fire Embers 

  • Plant Fire Hazard Traits 

  • Mitigation Measurements

  • Fire Mitigation Timing 

  • Wildfire Readiness 

  • Wildfire Evacuation Planning

Chapter 8: Fire & Smoke

  • The Fire Triangle 

  • Pyrolysis & Combustion 

  • Flame Shape, Color & Attachment 

  • Heat & Light Transfer 

  • Fire Acoustics 

  • Landscape/Wildland Fire 

  • Fire Anatomy 

  • Fire Behaviors 

  • Fire Measurements 

  • Flame Length 

  • Fire Rate of Spread 

  • Fire Intensity 

  • Fire Shape 

  • Fire Types & Behaviors 

  • Intensifying Fire Behaviors 

  • Extreme Fire Behaviors 

  • Smoke Observations 

  • Smoke Color Indicators 

  • Smoke Volume & Shape Indicators 

  • Smoke & Air Quality 

  • Prescribed Fire 

  • Prescribed Fire Anatomy 

  • Wildfire 

  • Wildfire Information 

  • Fire Progression Maps 

  • Chapter 9: Fire Severity & Effects

  • Fire Severity 

  • Vegetation Burn Severity

  • Ground & Soil Fire Severity 

  • Soil Hydrophobicity 

  • Watershed Effects 

  • Fire Pattern Indicators

  • Landscape Pattern Indicators 

  • Scene Pattern Indicators 

  • Close-up Pattern Indicators 

  • Collective FPIs 

  • Fire Effects 

  • First & Second Order Effects 

  • Habitat Zones & Escape Strategies 

  • Tree Mortality Phases

  • Fire Effects & Our Human Stories

Chapter 10: Fire Regimes

  • Ecoregions & Fire Regimes 

  • Fire Regime Attributes 

  • Fire Size 

  • Fire Types & Severities 

  • Fire Complexity & Patchiness 

  • Fire Frequency & Return Intervals 

  • Fire Seasonality 

  • Landscape Patterns 

  • Tree Stress, Injury & Death 

  • Tree & Forest Recovery 

  • Plant Traits & Fire Regimes 

  • Vegetation Communities & Fire Regimes 

  • Animals & Fire Regimes 

  • Ecoacoustics 

  • Humans & Fire Regimes 

Chapter 11: Getting Started

  • Getting Started 

  • Journaling Supplies & Equipment 

  • Other Resources 



About the Author

Pyrosketchology Program: Text
bottom of page