Wildland Urban Interface/Wildfire – Teacher Module

Dear Teachers,

Thank you for choosing this topic. Textbooks address little about wildfire; none touch on the wildland urban interface – where development meets the forest.

August 20th and 21st, 1910: 3.1 million acres burned in northern Idaho, western Montana and eastern Washington. Seventy-eight firefighters and seven civilians died. The view on wildfire was all BAD. A national policy to extinguish all fires by 10:00 am (the 10:00 am rule) was enacted. As a nation, we excelled at putting out fires.  As a state, Colorado was above the national curve. One of the first bills passed when Colorado achieved statehood (1876) required that all fires be aggressively fought. As time marched on, people began to feel safe living in the woods because they felt local, state, and federal firefighters would protect them. Recent fire seasons have turned this assumption on its head. Colorado saw 2 million acres burned in 2002, in 2010 the Boulder fires resulted in catastrophic loss of homes, and the 2012 and 2013 fire seasons resulted in unprecedented levels of destruction along the Front Range. In this unit we are going to focus on fire in the context of energy transfer and apply it to home ignition and prevention.

I worked closely with the property owners affected by the Hayman Fire. They can be divided into three groups: full-time homeowners, part-time home owners, and land owners. The first group has the most to lose, and are generally the most motivated to reduce their wildfire risk. Yet the other two groups greatly affect fire behavior before it reaches the homes of the full time homeowners. Education is key to improving the situation for everyone. 

One of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte’s (CUSP) former employees, Martha Campbell, applied the lessons we have learned by working in areas affected by the Hayman Fire. In 2003 she started to organize a local movement to create defensible space. We now help communities, counties, and fire districts create plans called Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPP). The tools we use are the ones we are giving to you and your students. CUSP has a crew that helps communities do the on-the-ground work, and they are also a first response team in the event of a fire. We all know it is not a matter of if, but when, a fire will happen. It is the cycle of nature; it is the natural process of recycling nutrients. We know the chance of a fire starting in an area that has been mitigated—an area that could sustain a fire with minimal damage—is slim, because there are so few. The goal is to put fire back in its beneficial role. Your students will learn how to achieve this goal.

Cordially yours,

Theresa Springer

Service opportunities through CUSP that would complement this curriculum include activities within the areas of habitat restoration, forest health, and fire mitigation. To schedule a service-learning activity, please click here.

Teacher’s Guide

Walking through the Curriculum

The Wildland Urban Interface/Wildfire Module consists of a pre- and post-assessment, several classroom demonstrations and activities for your students, and a service-learning day.  The activities and supporting documents provided will cover information on the the physics behind wildfire, energy transfer, and the creation of defensible space.   

Walking Through the Curriculum


Objectives & Standards 

Students will: (1) Understand transfer of energy as it relates to fire (conduction, radiation, and convection); (2) Understand that wildland fire is inevitable; (3) Understand and apply, through building a model, the steps to creating defensible space; (4) Participate in fieldwork creating defensible space

Studying energy transfer in depth is the first step to becoming a firefighter. 

Standards, Objectives, & STEM Connections


Time & Supplies

Students should work on the module in the classroom before going out into the field for a service-learning activity.  Classroom time will be 5 to 6 hours, plus a day of volunteering.  

Students will create the cover of their science notebooks as homework. Notebooks can evolve as the project progresses. 

  • Pre-Assessment: 15 minutes
  • Convection:    

            Convection activity and questions – 60 minutes

            Teacher demonstration (Hot & Cold Water) – 20 minutes

  • Conduction and Radiation:

             Steep Fire, Flat Fire Activity – 30 minutes

             Inquiry and data collection – 20 minutes

  • Energy Transfer Activity: 15-20 minutes
  • Firewise Activity: 120 minutes of reading and answering questions
  • Defense by Diorama Activity: 60 minutes
  • Post-Assessment: 15 minutes





Pre- and Post-Assesment



Hot & Cold Water Demonstration
Convection Activity
Steep Fire, Flat Fire Activity
Energy Transfer Activity
Firewise Activity
Defense by Diorama Activity 



Background Information
Woodland Home Forest Fire Hazard Rating
Defensible Space Images
Contacts for Additional Fire Information
Additional Resources


Two Sides of Fire – for purchase at http://www.forestinfo.org/videos

Fire Wars. Dir. Kurt Wolfinger. PBS. 2006. DVD.

Escape! Fire in Mann Gulch. History Channel.  A&E Home Video. 2006. DVD.



Pyne, Stephen J. Year of the Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910. New York, N.Y: Viking, 2001. Print.

Maclean, Norman. Young Men & Fire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Print

Gantenbein, Doug. A Season of Fire: Four Months on the Firelines in the American West. New York: J.P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2003. Print.

Maclean, John N. Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire. New York: William Morrow, 1999. Print.  

*This book takes place in Colorado. Storm King Mountain is just off of I -70. Once you locate the trail head the trail is clearly marked and is a strong emotional hike. There are markers along the trail where each wildland fire fighter died.*

Maclean, John N. Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines of American Wildfire. New York: H. Holt, 2003. Print.


Student books:

De, Golia J. Fire, a Force of Nature: The Story Behind the Scenery. Las Vegas, NV: KC Publications, 1993. Print.

Beil, Karen M. Fire in Their Eyes: Wildfires and the People Who Fight Them. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1999. Print.The True Story of Smokey Bear. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, 1985. Print.Karen Magnuson Beil (Photographer)


NOVA Fire Wars: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/fire/

Science Notebooks in K12 Classrooms: http://www.sciencenotebooks.org/notebookFeatures/

Teacher Demonstration: www.abc.net.au/science/surfingscientist/pdf/teachdemo10.pdf

“Are You Firewise”  Colorado State Forest Service: http://csfs.colostate.edu/pdfs/wholenotebook.pdf

“Creating Wildfire-Defensible Zones” Colorado State University Cooperative Extension: http://csfs.colostate.edu/pdfs/FIRE2012_1_DspaceQuickGuide.pdf

Colorado State Forest Service Office Address Directory: http://csfs.colostate.edu/pdfs/CSFSwebDirectory_October_2012.pdf 

FireWorks: Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program. Rocky Mountain Research Station. Missoula, MT. http://www.firelab.org/science-applications/science-synthesis/75-fireworks



Capri, Anthony.  Matter and Energy.  John Jay College of the City University of New York.  http://web.jjay.cuny.edu/~acarpi/NSC/2-matter.htm

Graham, Russell T., Technical Editor.  Hayman Fire Case Study.  Gen Tech. Rep. RMRS-GT-114.  Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. P. 1-32.  http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_gtr114/rmrs_gtr114_001_032.pdf

Michael, J. P.  Linking Weather and Climate: Water Density.  http://linkingweatherandclimate.com/ocean/waterdensity.php

Pyrocumulus.  Excerpt from the book “Weather”.  2005.  http://www.theairlinepilots.com/met/pyrocumulus.ht

©2012 CUSP