Wildfires

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Wildfires are causing more frequent and wider-ranging societal impacts, especially as residential communities continue to expand into wildland areas.  Since 2000, there have been twelve wildfires in the United States that have each caused damages exceeding $1 billion; cumulatively, these twelve wildfires have caused a total of $44 billion in damages.

Basics

Flames from the Thomas Fire in Los Padres National Forest, California. Image Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas, such as grasslands, shrublands, forests, or other environments, including wildland areas where people live.1 They can start from both human and natural causes, such as lightning, and they affect every state in the U.S. Nearly 85 percent of U.S. wildfires are from human causes, including uncontrolled campfires, burning debris, sparks from malfunctioning equipment, discarded cigarettes, and arson, accounting for 44% of the total area burned across the U.S.2,3   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Latest News

Hazards fire houses
(2017-12-12)
November 16, 2017 In response to the catastrophic wildfires in 2017 thus far, and the escalating costs of battling fire-related damages, Congress is fielding legislation to promote forest management techniques that would return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands. On November 1, the...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-10-05)
September 27, 2017 The U.S. Forest Service estimates that up to 60 million acres of our national forests are at a high to very high risk of catastrophic wildfire. In 2017 alone, wildfires have burned more than 8 million acres of land in the United States and suppression costs have exceeded $2.3...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-09-14)
August 3, 2017 As the U.S. endures another fire season, legislators on the Hill are seeking to address some of the challenges associated with managing wildland fires on federal land. A hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on August 3 tackled the complex challenges in...
Hazards fire houses
(2017-04-10)
March 27, 2017 The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a workshop on long-term approaches for wildfire management on March 27. The workshop looked at the costs of wildfires, not only in terms of the financial costs of fire suppression and rehabilitation of property and...
Hawaiian flower
(2016-11-03)
October 18, 2016 On October 18, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing at the Hawaiian State Capitol in Honolulu. The hearing addressed current water resource scarcity issues facing the state and recent water legislation. Hawaii‘s freshwater supplies are drawn almost...
Hazards fire houses
(2016-08-25)
August 15, 2016 At a news conference this August, Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jim Risch (R-ID), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) spoke optimistically that a House-Senate conference committee can work to resolve differences on the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016 (S. 2012 & H.R...
Hazards fire houses
(2016-06-28)
June 24, 2016 The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources convened to receive testimony on the Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act (S. ___) put forward by Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA). This new bipartisan legislation would end...
IES Soils Glyph
(2015-06-22)
June 2, 2015 The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on June 2 to assess drought conditions and water challenges in the western United States. Due to record low snowfalls and rapid population growth across the West, the hearing stressed the need for flexibility,...
Hazards fire houses
(2015-04-06)
March 19, 2015 The Western Governors’ Association sent a letter to Congress on March 19 expressing their support for two wildfire-related bills. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015 (S. 235), introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167), introduced...
Hazards fire houses
(2014-12-15)
November 5, 2014 A new study in the journal Nature suggests that wildfires be treated like other natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, where officials focus on adaptation and loss mitigation as opposed to prevention and response. The federal government currently spends billions of...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Fig. 1. Homeowners and emergency managers are still coping with debris flows and the aftermath of the 2002 Missionary Ridge wildfire near Durango, CO. Credit: P. Winkworth

Defining the Problem Wildfires, such as the Missionary Ridge fire that burned for more than a month in 2002 near Durango, Colorado (Fig. 1), and their aftermath can cause subsequent property and environmental damage. Many areas denuded by the fire are now susceptible to rapid erosion during...

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Geological Surveys Database Publications

2011, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology

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2017, United States Geological Survey
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landslide Hazards Program conducts landslide hazard assessments, pursues landslide investigations and forecasts, provides technical assistance to respond to landslide emergencies, and engages in outreach. All of these activities benefit from the availability of...
2013, United States Geological Survey

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2013, United States Geological Survey

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2013, United States Geological Survey
Elevation data are essential to a broad range of applications, including forest resources management, wildlife and habitat management, national security, recreation, and many others. For the State of California, elevation data are critical for infrastructure and construction management; natural...
2013, United States Geological Survey

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2014, United States Geological Survey

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2014, United States Geological Survey

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2013, United States Geological Survey
Elevation data are essential to a broad range of applications, including forest resources management, wildlife and habitat management, national security, recreation, and many others. For the State of Texas, elevation data are critical for natural resources conservation; wildfire management,...
2008, Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys

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