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featured artist

Miriam H Morrill

Vancouver, WA

Miriam Morrill is a retired biologist and wildland fire management specialist. She spent most of her career working with communities and fire management agencies across the western United States helping them plan, prepare, and adapt to wildfires. In retirement, she developed an education program and guidebook about observing, journaling, and sketching the fire environment called Pyrosketchology. She lives full-time in a fifth-wheel trailer with her husband and two dogs, traveling and journaling about nature and fire.

featured work

Pyrosketchology is an approach for building awareness of the fire environment through observations, sketching and nature journaling practices. The book is intended as a guide to create deeper awareness and educational support for fire-adapted living. 


Miriam defines the fire environment as the mix of elements that influence fire combustion and behavior in the “natural” landscape. Weather, topography and fuels (vegetation) are the primary elements of the fire behavior triangle which is a large focus of her book, but she also includes broader topics of fire seasons, ignitions, mitigation, effects and regimes as a means to unfold the complexities and deeper understanding of fire.

Each chapter of the book is available in a free PDF format that can be printed only for individual educational use.

responding to SIGHTLINES

I use artwork to express my feelings and connections to the world, while I create illustrations to understand and communicate information. Most importantly, I use a nature journaling practice to develop better observation skills, awareness, and understanding of the natural world around me. Weather, topography, and fuels are key focus areas for most of my journaling practices. 

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Various observational exercises, visual journaling prompts and sketching tips are available through Miriam's downloadable illustrated guide.

Below are two found in found in Chapter 4: Fire Fuels.

burn test_chpt4.png

Leaf Flammability Burn Test

An exercise you can use to compare moisture levels and flammability of live and dead fine fuels and or a mix of dead fine fuels in shaded and sunny areas is to gather several different leaves and do a flammability test.  


Make sure to do this exercise in an area cleared of all vegetation, on pavement, or in a classroom or laboratory setting. You should also have a bucket or container of water to drop the flaming leaves. I recommend using wooden matches and not a lighter or paper matches to provide a reasonable ignition source and test period. You should also have a stop watch and may want to have a a video camera on a tripod to record and observe the flame-lengths after you have observed and timed the ignition. The intent of the exercise is not burn the entire leaf, but to observe the differences between them.

Step 1: Trace or sketch the outline of the leaf shape in your journal, but do not color it in.  
Step 2: Start the timer and video camera. Hold a match to the side of the leaf, until it ignites or for the extent that the match lasts. Observe how well each ignites and burns.  
Step 3: Record the timing it takes to ignite and burn and add the data next to the leaf outline in your journal. Add any other notes about flames and smoke.
Step 4: Review the video and add any more observations missed during the test.    
Step 5: Sketch the approximate flames onto the leaf shape in your journal and color in the remaining leaf with any charred or unburned areas, showing color and texture differences.   

Tree Canopy Cover Observations

For this observation, you need to look straight up between a group of trees that best represents the overall canopy cover in the area. In a tall forest, you may be able to use an empty toilet paper or paper towel roll to help focus your perspective. You could also create a stencil cutout from a piece of paper or put a circle on a clear piece of plastic. You should ideally take several measurements and obtain an average for the area. Use the canopy cover percentage and or associated descriptive term from the graphic.  Sketch a small circle in your journal and use dots to represent the concentration of canopy cover.  

You can sketch the canopy cover by filling in the leaves, branches and tree trunks, if you’d like something more detailed. Don’t forget to add the percentage and descriptive term on or next to your diagram or sketch. Add additional notes and or measurements about the distance between tree canopies to build a sense of how a fire could move from one tree to another.  

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