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Focus Questions

Learning Objectives

Preparing to Teach this Lesson

Suggested Activities

Further Resources


Standards and Benchmarks

Lesson Plans

Student Work




Earth, Wind and Fire

by Karyl Rosenberg, Nicolet High School, Glendale, Wisconsin


Wildfires and the geophysical conditions involved in their occurrences are often newsworthy topics. As a result, the concept often inspires concern and curiosity. To that end, this collection of resources and activity ideas is intended to encourage teachers at a wide range of grade levels and content areas to address the topic in their classrooms. The activities can be used separately or as a mini unit on wildfire issues.

Focus Questions

What are some stories about Wisconsin wildfires?

What are the causes and effects of wildfires?

Learning Objectives

  • To understand the science, stories and social consequences of Wisconsin wildfires.

Preparing to Teach this Lesson

Be prepared to project web images to the class.
Print out the materials from the links below that you will use.

Suggested Activities

Personal Fire Stories

Many people have memorable experiences related to some sort of wildfire that occurred during their lives. Your job is to contact someone who has memories of a wildfire and find out as much as you can about their experience.

Read this personal fire story, The May Grass Fire, as an example of what to expect.

If you have personal wildfire memories, ask yourself the questions that follow. If no one in your family or immediate circle of acquaintances has any wildfire memories, contact a nearby fire department. Police departments and municipal public works departments may also be helpful. Once you find someone with a story, ask them questions similar to the following series:

  • When did the fire occur?
  • Where was it located?
  • What was the weather like when this fire occurred?
  • Does weather seem to have been an important part of the fire event?
  • How did the fire act?
  • What was the outcome for the natural and built environment affected by the fire?

Grades 6 - 12

Write an essay to read as a narrative version of the story. Be sure it is typed and double-spaced on one side of each sheet used. Type face may be 10 or 12 points only.

Grades 1 - 5

Same activity, but shorter length; 1 page and larger type face may be used.

Wisconsin's Most Famous Fire: Peshtigo - October 1871

On the evening of October 8, 1871, the worst recorded forest fire in North American history raged through Northeastern Wisconsin, destroying millions of dollars worth of property and forests while claiming over 1,200 lives.

A number of excellent resources are available to learn about this historic conflagration, here are just a few to get started:

The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 by Deana C. Hipke, a Wisconsinite originally from the Peshtigo area who created this extensive website out of personal interest.

The Peshtigo Fire from The Peshtigo Times.

Survivor Stories of the Peshtigo Fire

Denise Gess & William Lutz. 2003. Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History. New York: Owl Books.

To research other Wisconsin fires, investigate the Wisconsin Historical Society website and local history websites or sections in various public libraries.

Using these resources, have your students create presentations of various types, individual or group, with assorted audiovisual resources. Electronic or paper poster are options for sharing.

The Science of Wildfire Development & Suppression

Visit How Wildfires Work to get an easy-to-follow overview of how wildfires work. Be prepared to explain each of the components headed by a bold-face title. This can be done as a written summary of each section for an individual assignment or can be split up and shared by team members in a variety of audio-visual ways for class presentation. This activity is suitable for grades 4 -12.

Droughts - Past, Present, Future

Drought can be a cause for wildfires. Talk about the definition of drought with your class. (See Glossary.) Discuss drought in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Use the article Gee, I'm Parched from Trees for Tomorrow to highlight the environmental and social effects of droughts.

Bring up the website U.S. Drought Monitor for the entire class to see. Locate the categories of moisture conditions in visual and narrative form on the map for the current date across the country. Best used as daily class discussion.

Wisconsin Climatology

Visit the Wisconsin State Climatology Office website. Go the Climate History section and find the definition of Climatic Normal. Be able to explain it.

Go to Climate Summaries for Seven Wisconsin Cities. Print out the annual precipitation graphs for Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay & LaCrosse. Have your students identify and mark the years of least precipitation. Have them mark a line on the graphs at the current annual normal precipitation average. Comment on the range of precipitation levels for each city over the time of the graphed data. What trends seem to emerge?

Both of these web-based activities are best used for grades 8 - 12.

Benefits & Negative Effects of Fire on Ecosystems

Assign your students to read the article Fire, Fire Burning Bright. Tell them to be prepared to comment on the following ideas from the reading:

  • Fire as an agent of change
  • Types of forest fires possible in Wisconsin
  • Typical time frame for fire seasons - 2003 events
  • Wildfire, Western-style potential
  • Impact of fire on natural resources

This can be assigned as a written assignment or done as a class discussion. Suitable for grades 6 - 12. It may be done individually or in a jigsaw reading/sharing activity in a class period.

Further Resources

The Winter 2004 issue of Northbound, newsletter published by Trees for Tomorrow, Eagle River, Wisconsin included several articles listed above as well as:

The Peshtigo Fire from Oconto County, Wisconsin, has extensive information and links.

Standards and Benchmarks

  Grade 4 Grade 8 Grade 12
Weather and Climate
A.4.1 B.4.1 C.4.3 E.4.4 H.4.2 A.8.1 B.8.7 B.8.8 C.8.7 E.8.7 G.8.7 A.12.3 B.12.4 C.12.2 E.12.4 G.12.3 G.12.5 H.12.1
Social Studies
Geography, History and Behavioral Science
  A.4.2 A.4.4 A.4.5 A.4.6 A.4.7 A.4.8 B.4.1 B.4.3 E.4.15 A.8.1 A.8.4 A.8.6 B.8.1 B.8.4 B.8.7 E.8.14 A.12.1 A.12.2 B.12.1 B.12.2
Language Arts
Reading, Writing, Oral Language, Language, Media and Technology
  A.4.3 A.4.4 B.4.1 B.4.2 C.4.1 C.4.2 C.4.3 D.4.1 D.4.2 E.4.3 A.8.3 A.8.4 B.8.1 B.8.2 C.8.1 C.8.2 C.8.3 D.8.1 D.8.2 E.8.3 A.12.3 A.12.4 B.12.1 B.12.2 C.12.1 C.12.2 C.12.3 D.12.1 D.12.2 E.12.3


Sponsored by:
Wisconsin Arts Board CIMSS UW Folklore Program