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Image of smoke and fire in mountainous terrain

Part of the Intermediate Wildland Fire Behavior Course, this module outlines the range of available weather products and services that can be useful in a wildland fire situation. The module is text-based, allowing you to read through the information at your own pace. Short narrated pieces in the "Accessing Products" section demonstrate how to locate fire weather information using different Websites.

At the end of this module, you should be able to:

  • Identify the types, purpose, and elements of Predictive Service products.
  • Identify the types, purpose, and elements of National Weather Service (NWS) products.
  • Identify ways in which firefighters can receive fire weather products and weather observations.
  • Describe the importance of Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) and Fire Behavior Analysts (FBANs) on wildland fires.

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Introduction > Fire Management Needs

Crowning fire in spruce forest within the boundaries of the Kenai NWR

Fire management needs include:

  • Planning daily fire management activities
  • Planning effective control actions on fires
  • Determining fire potential several days in advance

The National Weather Service (NWS) and Predictive Services provide products that meet these needs.

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Predictive Services

The Predictive Services program was created after the 2000 fire season with the goal of improving the use of weather, fuels and readiness information in wildland fire management decision making. Predictive Services staff include interagency land management fire intelligence coordinators, fire behavior analysts, fire meteorologists, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists. Predictive Services staff link long-term weather assessments with long-term fire potential and behavior. Prior to 2000, only short-term (24-hour) fire potential assessments were available. Predictive Services units provide decision support information through weekly, monthly, and seasonal assessments of the risk of large, costly wildfires. Individual Predictive Services units may offer additional products.

map showing Geographic Areas served by Predictive Services

Each of the 11 Geographic Area Coordinating Centers (GACCs) houses a Predictive Services unit. Information from the GACCs is integrated into national level products by the National Interagency Coordinating Center (NICC) Predictive Services unit.

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Predictive Services > Purpose

Predictive Services monitors, analyzes, and predicts:

  • Fire weather
  • Fire danger
  • Effects on wildland firefighting resources

Predictive Services produces combined fire weather/fire danger outlooks for zones determined by climatology and topography.

photo of fire crew planning next strategy

The goals of these products are to:

  • Aid resource-related decision making at the geographic area and national levels
  • Increase overall safety through an enhanced awareness of expected fire danger and potential increases in fire activity

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Predictive Services > Significant Fire Potential

screen capture of 7-day outlook from GACC

(click to view larger image)

The 7-Day Significant Fire Potential product is designed to draw attention to any combination of environmental factors and resource statuses affecting the risk of large, costly wildfires. The product is issued daily and posted to GACC and national Websites daily during predetermined fire season dates or during significant fire activity. It combines key information about:

  • Observed and projected fire weather with an emphasis on critical patterns
  • Fluctuations in fire danger
  • Fire management resource status

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Predictive Services > Monthly Outlooks

screen capture of monthly fire potential outlook from GACC

(click to view full 1-page pdf)

The Monthly Fire Weather and Fire Danger Outlooks are completed every month, year-round, by each GACC. The Monthly Outlook includes brief discussions of:

  • Predicted general weather and fire danger
  • Current fuel anomalies
  • Fuel moisture conditions

Other information can be included, dependent on the individual GACCs.

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Predictive Services > Natl Wildland Fire Outlook

Seasonal Wildland Fire Outlooks are updated each month and provide information about fire potential over the next 2 to 4 months.

screen capture of wildland fire outlook from NWS

(click to view full 6-pg pdf)

Elements include:

  • Narratives for the geographic area
  • A national map delineating areas of below normal, normal, and above normal fire potential
  • Current and projected fire statistics to help determine needs, resource availability, and funding

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Predictive Services > Seasonal Assessments

Seasonal assessments inform fire management of current and projected fire potential for the upcoming fire season at geographic area and national levels. The assessments are issued as a special report twice per year, once for the eastern and southeastern U.S. and once for the West and Alaska. This information is included in the monthly/seasonal outlooks described in previous sections and addresses:

  • Current conditions and comparison with historical conditions
  • Climate, weather, and fire forecasts and outlooks
  • Future scenarios and probabilities
  • Concerns, recommendations, and management implications

screen capture of seasonal fire outlook

(click to view full pdf)

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Predictive Services > Fuels Information

Each GACC also provides updated fuel readiness information, including:

  • Energy Release Component (ERC)
  • 1000-hour fuel moisture
  • Additional products depending on region

The information is typically found within the Fuels and Fire Danger section of a GACC's Website and includes both observed and forecast values.

graph of Energy Release Component (ERC) for Central California Coast

These sources provide useful information for monitoring patterns and quickly assessing when changes in fuels or other environmental factors could pose dangerous conditions. Weather changes can very quickly and significantly influence fire danger, making it important to stay aware of the patterns affecting your area of concern. How quickly the fire danger responds to weather changes depends in part on the type of fuel, condition, and fuel loading.

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Predictive Services > Other Products

Different GACCs offer additional potentially useful products and services, including:

  • Weather briefings
  • Daily summaries of NWS fire weather forecasts, both graphical and text
  • Long-term precipitation monitoring
  • Smoke management summaries
  • Spot forecasts for prescribed burns (California only)

photo of crew assessing wildfire

GACC meteorologists and technical specialists may be available to provide support for wildfires or prescribed burns. Firefighters should contact their local predictive services group to determine which services are offered.

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Predictive Services > Exercise

Identify the most appropriate GACC products for each scenario below:

Where do I find out about the days this week that have the highest risk for excessive fire growth? (Select all that apply.)

The correct answers are:

selected check box b. 7-Day Significant Fire Outlook

The 7-Day Significant Fire Potential Outlook provides information about current and projected fire weather and fire danger over a one-week period. This product fills the gap between short-term weather information provided for an area and longer-term monthly or seasonal assessments.

What products are best for helping me assess fire potential across various regions where my team might be called? (Select all that apply.)

The correct answers are:

selected check box b. Seasonal Wildland Fire Outlook

selected check box c. Monthly Fire Danger Outlook

The Monthly and Seasonal Outlook products offer general weather and fire danger predictions, fuel anomalies, and fuel moisture conditions to determine fire potential over multi-week timescales. These products can be very useful for longer-term planning.

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National Weather Service

The National Weather Service staffs 122 Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) nationwide, providing:

  • Public forecasts
  • Standardized weather products and services
  • Optional locally- or regionally-determined products

WFO regions

Color-coding on the map represents the forecast areas for each of the 122 Weather Forecast Offices across the U.S.

Each Weather Forecast Office designates a Fire Weather Program Leader to oversee specialized fire weather forecasts and products.

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts

A Fire Weather Planning Forecast (FWF) is a zone-focused product to support decision making by land management personnel.

photo of smoke in the woods

Products are tabular or narrative, and typically issued at least once per day during local fire season and updated when a Fire Weather Watch or Red Flag Warning is issued.

A FWF is also updated if the meteorologist determines that the forecast no longer represents expected conditions.

To make sure the Fire Weather Planning Forecast contains all the adequate information, fire management personnel should communicate their needs to their local NWS offices.

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts > Headline and Discussion

FWFs vary regionally, but the first element included is a fire weather headline and discussion. The headline highlights significant weather elements or changes, including any Fire Weather Watches or Red Flag Warnings that will impact the forecast area, usually within the first 24 hours. For example, the headline may read Hot and Dry This Afternoon or Increasing Dry Thunderstorms Today. The discussion is used to support the headline and give a general idea of the overall weather regime that will impact the forecast area.

graphic version of fire weather discussion from NWS

The discussion is typically short but adequately detailed, highlighting the forecast elements that will impact fire operation (for instance, strong winds, hot and dry conditions, or an unstable atmosphere).

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts > Exercise

Select the answer that represents what you can expect to see as the headline of a FWF.

The correct answer is:


A Fire Weather Planning Forecast headline emphasizes the conditions, timeframe, and affected location.

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts > Short-term Fcst

A FWF includes a short-term forecast providing information about:

  • Sky and weather including cloud cover
  • Probability of precipitation (POP) or chance of wetting rain (CWR)
  • Current and likely changes in temperature and relative humidity
  • Surface (20-foot) wind speed and direction

screen capture of short term fire weather forecast

Wind information can include gust, valley, and ridge-top values as relevant. An 8-point compass (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW) is used for wind direction.

See how the short-term forecast fits into the Fire Weather Planning Forecast (view full document).

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts > Extended Fcst

FWFs also provide an extended forecast containing fewer details than are provided for the first 36 to 48 hours. This forecast usually covers a 7-day range but varies based on local policies. The extended forecast might be included in the fire weather zone section or at the end of the fire weather planning forecast for the entire forecast area.

graphic of extended fire weather forecast text

See how the extended forecast fits into the Fire Weather Planning Forecast (view full document).

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts > Optional Elements

Optional elements that can be included in a fire weather forecast (FWF) include:

  • Haines Index
  • Ridge Top Winds
  • Mixing Heights
  • Transport Winds
  • Dispersion
  • Marine Layer
  • Probability of Precipitation (POP)
  • Chance of Wetting Rain (CWR)

graphic of optional forecast elements

See how the optional elements fit into the Fire Weather Planning Forecast (view full document).

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National Weather Service > Fire Weather Forecasts > LAL

A fire weather forecast also often includes Lightning Activity Level (LAL). LAL is a numerical rating of 1 to 6, related to the frequency and character of the cloud-to-ground lightning (CG) strikes forecasted or observed in an area during the rating period.

table showing LAL values and meanings

LAL6, corresponding to dry thunderstorms, can have a high potential for fire ignition. It is normally highlighted in fire weather forecasts with a Red Flag Warning if the LAL6 situation occurs during fire season or during a period of elevated fire danger.

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National Weather Service > Spot Forecasts

A spot forecast is a 24- to 36-hour forecast issued to fit the time, topography, and weather of a specific location or incident. The spot forecast can be requested for wildfires, prescribed burns, spray projects, tree planting, and other occurrences as needed for safety.

screen capture of spot request form from web

(click to view larger version)

A Spot Request requires a project name, the name of the requesting agency, the location, fuel type, onsite weather observations, requested elements, and any additional remarks before submission.

Requests should be submitted through the Web-based NWS Spot system when available. Otherwise, a Spot Request form can be faxed to the Weather Forecast Office. It is useful to follow up your request with a phone call to make sure it was received and have the opportunity to talk with the forecaster about specific issues or concerns.

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Natl Weather Service > Spot Forecasts > Exercise

Select the appropriate reason(s) for a spot forecast request. (Select all that apply.)

The correct answers are:

selected check boxa. WILDFIRE

selected check boxc. HAZMAT

selected check boxd. PRESCRIBED BURN

Spot forecast requests can be requested for wildfires, prescribed burns, hazardous material situations, and other events critical to public safety.

Which of the following observations should you provide to accompany your spot request? (Select all that apply.)

Correct answer: All of the above.

selected check box a. Elevation

selected check box b. Time

selected check box c. Wind

selected check box d. Temp

selected check box e. Wet bulb

selected check box f. RH

selected check box g. Dewpoint

selected check box h. Sky/Weather

When submitting your spot request, you will need to provide recent observations from the site. It is important that you provide as many data values as you can to ensure the most accurate forecast.

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National Weather Service > Spot Forecasts > Elements

A completed spot forecast includes:

  • The time period for which the forecast is valid
  • Topographic maps of the unit location
  • Elevation and aspect
  • Fuel type
  • On-site weather observations
  • Requested parameters, including forecast weather and sky conditions specific to the location
  • Temperature (typically a 5-deg range), specific to the location
  • Relative humidity (typically a 5% range) specific to the location
  • Wind speed and direction (20-foot or eye level), including gusts
  • Stability and smoke dispersal (optional)
  • A request for feedback

short version of cayuse spot forecast

(click to view full pdf of completed spot forecast)

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National Weather Service > Spot Forecasts > Getting Useful Spots

To obtain the most useful spot weather forecasts, the requestor should:

  • First, take and record representative weather observations on the fire
  • Second, complete the NWS Spot Request form
  • Third, transmit the NWS Spot Request form via the Web or fax and call to verify that the request was received
  • Fourth, provide the meteorologist with feedback on the accuracy of forecast.

It is essential that the requestor provide weather feedback, even if not strictly required to do so in some areas. This information can help the meteorologist improve on subsequent spot forecast submissions.

example of spot forecast feedback provided via web interface

Feedback can be submitted through:

  • The Remarks box of the Spot Request, where the previous day's results can be provided
  • The Feedback box at the end of the Spot Request
  • Faxing line observations to the local WFO to help verify the forecast
  • Calling the WFO and talking with the forecaster

Feedback on a spot request provides forecasters with information on the accuracy of the predictions, which they can then use to refine and improve subsequent forecasts.

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National Weather Service > Fire Wx Watches/Red Flag

A Fire Weather Watch or Red Flag Warning is issued when a combination of dry fuels and weather conditions supporting fire ignition and/or significant growth is occurring or is expected to occur. These watches or warnings alert fire and land managers to critical or rapidly changing weather conditions that could increase fire danger in a significant way.

A Fire Weather Watch is issued when there is a high potential for the development of a Red Flag Event. A Fire Weather Watch is generally issued 24 to 72 hours in advance of the expected onset of the Red Flag criteria.

graphic of Fire Weather Watch product

A Red Flag Warning is used to warn of an impending, or occurring, red flag event and denotes a high degree of confidence that red flag event criteria will occur within 24 hours.

graphic of Red Flag Warning product

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National Weather Service > Fire Wx Watches/Red Flag > Criteria

graphic of red flag criteria for Los Angeles/Oxnard

Red flag events typically require combination of high to extreme fire danger and a critical fire weather pattern such as:

  • Dry lightning
  • The first lightning after an extremely dry period
  • Unusually low relative humidity
  • A very dry and unstable atmosphere (high Haines Index values for the area)
  • Very strong and shifting winds in some cases associated with a cold front

These criteria, related to temperature, humidity, wind, or lightning, are based on locally or regionally established thresholds. For instance, while a Fire Weather Watch might be issued for humidity below 35% in Florida, in many parts of the western U.S. and particularly the intermountain west, a humidity of 35% would be considered high.

Determining critical fire weather patterns and the thresholds is a cooperative effort between the fire management agencies and the Weather Forecast Office. Because of this local focus, the criteria for red flag events vary from region to region. To keep current with Red Flag criteria, consult the local NWS office or read the local or regional Annual Operating Plan (AOP).

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National Weather Service > Smoke Management Fcst

Smoke management forecasts are issued:

  • At the request of land management agencies
  • On a routine basis or as needed
  • As narrative, tabular or combined formats determined by the NWS and the requestor

In California, smoke management products can also be issued by Predictive Services.

graphic of smoke management forecast product

The smoke management forecast typically contains:

  • Forecasts of the transport winds
  • Variability of transport winds with height and time
  • Air mass stability
  • Air dispersion and measures of dispersion
  • Mixing heights
  • Variations with time
  • Other smoke management related parameters

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National Weather Service > Rangeland/Grassland

The Rangeland/Grassland Fire Danger Statement is a miscellaneous product offered by some offices. It provides advisory information on rangeland and/or grassland fire potential or conditions.

graphic of rangeland fire forecast product

Land management and NWS personnel should establish the content, format, frequency of issuance, and method of dissemination of this product, which can be issued on a routine or nonroutine basis.

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National Weather Service > NFDRS

Another useful planning product is the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) forecast based on numerical weather trend data. This product allows managers to adjust staffing levels as necessary and make short-term strategic decisions. Because these forecasts are also reflected on the well-known Smokey the Bear signs, they also warn the public of the fire danger.

photo of Smoky the Bear fire danger sign

NFDRS forecast parameters include temperature, relative humidity, LAL, wind direction and speed, precipitation duration, sky condition, and fuel moisture trends. The forecasts can be accessed through the Wildland Fire Assessment System site (, the Weather Information Management System (WIMS), or through some Predictive Services Websites.

More information about NWS responsibilities for NFDRS forecasts can be found at

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National Weather Service > Point Fcst/FARSITE

The Point Forecast Matrix (PFW) is a tabular product listing several fire weather variables, including temperature, relative humidity, winds, and in some cases, Haines Index. This product is particularly useful for planning project burns because the forecasts are provided out to 7 days. The PFW is available through the fire weather section of an individual Weather Forecast Office's Website.

screen shot of Point Matrix Forecast product

The NWS also offers a FARSITE interface, providing wind and weather data for a location that you specify. These data can then be input to the FARSITE model.

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National Weather Service > Activity Planner

The Weather Activity Planner lets you select a set of weather parameters of interest for your activity and generates a planning forecast. Parameters can include temperature, relative humidity, winds, Haines Index, LAL, precipitation potential, and, in some areas, ventilation.

screen shot of Weather Activity Planner forecast

(click to view larger version)

Point forecasts and activity planner forecasts are NOT the same as a spot forecast and are for planning purposes only. They are computer-generated output based on gridded data fields and have not been subject to human post-editing or review. You should consult the NWS office for the most current weather information before actually beginning an activity.

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National Weather Service > Exercise

The correct answers are:

screen grab of exercise answer

A range of products can provide information for these scenarios. When planning a prescribed burn, useful products to consult include the Fire Weather Planning Forecast, Smoke Management Forecast, Point Forecast Matrix, and the Weather Activity Planner.

Guidance for determine proper staffing levels can be obtained from the Fire Weather Planning Forecast and from Red Flag Warnings or Fire Weather Watches for the area.

Fire Weather Planning Forecasts, Red Flag Warnings/Fire Weather Watches, and the NFDRS can all provide information about the potential for critical fire behavior and/or growth.

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Accessing Products

What is a first source to access for gathering fire weather information?

The correct answer is:

selected radio button b. the Internet

Aside from an IMET at the scene, the most up-to-date weather products are available to you through the Internet. The next few sections will show you how to navigate various Websites to find the information you need.

When computer resources are available, the Internet is the main source for gathering or requesting fire weather information including:

  • Fire weather planning forecasts
  • Spot forecasts
  • 7-day significant fire potential products
  • Weather observations

Alternative sources for gathering or receiving fire weather information include phone or radio communication with local interagency dispatch centers.

gathering information from the internet

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Accessing Products > NWS Products

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Accessing Products > Predict Serv Products

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Accessing Products > ROMAN

ROMAN is a weather observation retrieval Web application, developed and maintained as a partnership between the University of Utah, federal land management agencies, and the National Weather Service. It allows fire management personnel to display complete or portions of weather observations (from NWS, RAWS, DOT sites) in almost real time.

screen shot of ROMAN weather observations

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Accessing Products > ROMAN > Accessing ROMAN

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Onsite Support

photo of fire crew on scene of wildland fire

Both Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) and Fire Behavior Analysts (FBANs) can support fire operations at a site. IMETs and FBANs work together to provide Incident Management Teams with the most current, location-specific information about weather and its effects on fire behavior.

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Onsite Support > IMET

IMET gathering data in the field

When requested, certified Incident Meteorologists (IMETs) provide onsite fire support for Incident Management Teams.

IMETs issue detailed incident-specific forecasts written only for the immediate area of the incident. These forecasts include all the meteorological parameters of other forecasts but with added emphasis on time and location differences.

In the field, the meteorologist can personally observe the local weather influences on fuels and topography. The resulting forecasts are the most specific and accurate types of forecast available.

The IMET also has the opportunity to work with other field personnel and crews to help gather onsite observations and validate forecasts at the incident site. Your onsite observations should always be provided to the IMET because they will help both the IMET and the FBAN produce better forecasts.

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Onsite Support > FBAN

photo of FBAN working an incident

Weather forecasts and data collected on a wildfire are input to fire behavior predictions. These predictions are necessary for the safety of firefighters and people threatened by wildfires as well as for developing operational plans to support the fire suppression efforts and objectives.

Predicting fire behavior is the responsibility of the FBAN, who works for the Plans section of the Incident Management Team.

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Onsite Support > Responsibilities

image of NOAA and fire personnel working incident

On an incident, the IMET provides support for the FBAN; the two positions work closely together preparing forecasts for field personnel.

  • The fire behavior analyst (FBAN) gathers onsite data through personal observations, communication with local managers, and observations made by other field-going personnel. These data help the FBAN predict and validate the expected fire behavior using modeling software.
  • The Incident Meteorologist (IMET) prepares the most detailed weather forecast possible for the fire area and briefs the FBAN and crews.
  • The FBAN then prepares his or her fire behavior forecast using all fire behavior and weather information available.

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Onsite Support > Exercise

Whom should I ask? Select either IMET or FBAN as the person responsible for providing the requested information in each case below.

The correct answers are:

IMETs and FBANs have clear responsibilities at a fire. The IMET provides weather information and forecasts, including winds, temperatures, humidity, and potential for thunderstorms and lightning. The FBAN predicts the behavior of the fire, offering guidance related to plume collapse, behavior at specified locations, fire perimeter, and rate of spread.

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Onsite Support > Fire Behavior Forecast

A fire behavior forecast includes:

  • A short weather summary
  • General fire behavior summary
  • Specific fire behavior predictions for areas or divisions of the fire
  • Information for air operations
  • A safety message relative to fire behavior and line personnel

excerpt from Fire Behavior Forecast

(click to view full Fire Behavior Forecast)

The specific fire behavior discussion includes:

  • Rates of spread relevant to different locations on the fire
  • Trigger points for line personnel
  • Precautions that should be taken as a result of the behaviors

The FBAN will prepare a forecast for each shift to meet fire managers' needs. The fire behavior forecast:

  • Interprets wildland fire calculations
  • Describes expected wildland fire behavior for areas of the fire
  • Identifies hazards due to wildland fire for ground and aircraft activities

A good fire behavior forecast is a valuable planning tool and emphasizes safety.

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photo of smoke plume and pyrocumulus cloud

Two main sources of weather information are:

The National Weather Service staffs Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) nationwide, providing Fire Weather Planning Forecasts, Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings, Spot Requests, Smoke Management Forecasts, Rangeland/Grassland Fire Danger Statements, and other weather and planning forecasts.

Predictive Services resources are distributed by 11 Geographic Area Coordination Centers (GACCs) and include 7-Day Significant Fire Potential Outlooks, Monthly and Seasonal Outlooks, National Wildland Fire Danger Statements, fuels information, and other guidance products.

You can print out a one-pager that will help you keep these sites and local information ready for your reference on an incident.