Guidelines for PocketCard Development

Example Pocketcard

  • Determine the intended use: The Fire Danger Pocket Card was originally conceived to brief out of area resources as well as local crews. The day to day tracking of the current fire danger can best be done by displaying climatology graphs at the local unit offices. PocketCards should be constructed to communicate initial situational awareness to firefighters. The index/fuel model/weather station set on the card must match the index/fuel model/weather station set provided with the daily radio weather broadcast. A PocketCard is a valuable tool only if the value for the index on the card is provided daily.
  • Determine the area of applicability of a particular card: Does it represent a fire danger rating area, a predictive service area, an administrative unit, a sub-geographical region, a watershed, a fire weather forecast zone, a protection zone, fire climate zone, etc.?

Once the above are established:

  • ​Determine which weather station best represents the area of application.
    • The number of weather stations depends on the size of the area represented by the PocketCard, the length and quality of the station record, and operational constraints at the local unit.
    • The station should depict the near worst case potential in the area it is to represent.
    • The station selected should have at least 10 years of data, twenty or more is preferred. PocketCards with less than 10 years of data should provide text information explaining that the card is based on limited years of data and may not represent the most serious conditions the area could experience.
    • Individual data records should be reviewed carefully to insure they are relatively clean with no gross errors (such as 30 inches of rain in a day or 120 miles per hour winds). These kinds of errors can significantly skew the historical climatological breakpoints and seasonal trend patterns.

Determine what fuel model and index best meets the intended use of the card.

At a minimum, PocketCards need to relate directly to daily operations and indices with which people are familiar. That is, the fuel model and fire danger rating index must be the same as what is referred to in daily briefings and weather reports. If possible, the fuel model and index should be selected through a fire business analysis using FireFamily Plus software. Download the latest version of FireFamily Plus.

Because the card is meant to enhance situational awareness and firefighter safety, whatever fuel model and index are used, they need to be defined and rigorously supported with daily information to the field.

Make as few cards as possible to represent an area. If multiple cards are necessary they should represent adjacent parts of an area. Avoid creating multiple cards representing different fuel models and indices for the same area, as this can be confusing and send conflicting messages. Keep in mind, NFDRS indices and components reflect general conditions and do not predict fire behavior for a specific area.

  • ERC is a good indicator of the overall fire danger resulting from local fuel moisture conditions. This component is useful in tracking seasonal trends or communicating expected fire danger to local resources who have familiarity that allows them to associate the numeric values with real life experiences in the area. ERC values are sometimes hard for incoming firefighters to relate to if they are from an area where fuel loading and dryness are not the primary contributors to fire danger.
  • BI reflects changes in fine fuel moisture content and wind speed and is highly variable from day to day. BI may be applicable in situations where the intended application is to brief incoming firefighters who may not have local experience in the area since it can loosely be translated into the expected flame length by dividing the BI by 10. BI may be more appropriate for short-term reference to fire danger such as an incident action plan briefing.

Years to Remember

The FireFamily Plus software allows the users to overlay two years for comparison of fire danger conditions. One should be a year with relatively high fire danger and the other with low fire danger. Both years should be recent, to give the local firefighter a point of reference.

FireFamily also allows one to plot memorable fires which occurred in either of these two years to associate them with fire danger conditions. These fires do not have to be located above the dashed threshold value; many significant fires occur below this level. Make sure that the fires selected have weather data associated with the date the fire started or else it will not be plotted in the correct location.

In the background of both seasonal trend charts on the PocketCard is a red-yellow-green color scheme. These colors serve to interpret what type of firefighting activity is generally possible given a value of the fire danger index within that band. The interpretations are found in the upper right quadrant next to the traffic light. The traffic light is like a hauling chart. It suggests that red means "stop," or "direct control by any means is not likely"; yellow means "caution," or "this is your upper limit of effectiveness"; green means "go," or "proceed but always be wary of change." The width of each color band should be adjusted to reflect local conditions.

Critical Local Thresholds

Critical threshold values for temperature, relative humidity, wind and live fuel moisture conditions should be determined through analysis of fire business using Fire Family Plus. Identify the values commonly present for these measures at the time of larger or problem fires. Other critical threshold values, for measures such as 1000 hr Fuel Moisture, can be determined, where appropriate, and added to the narrative.

Past Experience

This text entry is a very important part of the card. The intent of this section is to supplement, if necessary, information shown on the adjacent Years to Remember chart and to highlight unique local events that influence fire danger and large fire potential (sundowners, east winds, etc).

Include on the last line of the text the effective date of the PocketCard. This will help ensure that individuals have the most current card available.


Cards can be updated as frequently as needed by downloading the additional weather observations, amending the Fire Family Plus database, and running new cards. Pocket Cards based on stations with a dataset of 10 years or less should be updated annually, while cards with more data (10 years or more) should be updated every other year.

Bad observations should be deleted from the database, not corrected through interpolation. Badly corrupted or incomplete record sets can be cleaned and filled through the Western Regional Climatic Center.

Printing and Distribution

Cards should be printed on high quality, color reproduction paper. They can be copied in black and white; however, notes may need to be added to the cards to provide clarity for the graphical display. Lamination is suggested to protect the cards.

DO NOT distribute the cards without an interpretive briefing. An explanation of the card and how to interpret NFDRS outputs is critical to its success as a situational awareness tool for the firefighter.