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

Geologic maps are useful in identifying areas that may be affected by post-wildfire debris flows. Land-use planners use these maps to identify potential hazards in areas that are proposed for development and to develop mitigation strategies. The maps can also focus post-wildfire emergency planning...

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Geological Surveys Database Publications

2018, United States Geological Survey
Bountiful fisheries, healthy and resilient wildlife, flourishing forests and vibrant grasslands are coveted resources that benefit all Americans. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) science supports the conservation and management of the Nation's fish and wildlife, and the landscapes they inhabit....
2017, United States Geological Survey
Natural resource monitoring involves repeated collections of resource condition data and analyses to detect possible changes and identify underlying causes of changes. For natural resource agencies, monitoring provides the foundation for management and science. Specifically, analyses of monitoring...
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...
2017, Arizona Geological Survey
Trends of increasing wildfire size and severity across the western U.S. and concurrent encroachment and development into the wildland-urban interface place more people and infrastructure at greater risks from wildfires and the aftermaths of fires. Wildfires dramatically alter watershed hydrologic...
2017, United States Geological Survey

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2017, United States Geological Survey

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2016, United States Geological Survey
The Wildfire Sciences Team at the U.S. Geological SurveyâEuro TMs Earth Resources Observation and Science Center produces vegetation type, vegetation structure, and fuel products for the United States, primarily through the Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools (LANDFIRE) program....
2016, United States Geological Survey
The Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC) operates as a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey and is 1 of 12 DAACs within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). The LP DAAC ingests, archives,...
2016, United States Geological Survey
A wildfireâEuro TMs devastation of forest and rangeland seldom ends when the last embers die. In the western United States, rain on a scorched mountainside can turn ash into mudslides. Debris flows unleashed by rainstorms can put nearby homes into harmâEuro TMs way and send people scrambling for...
2016, United States Geological Survey
Two recent investigations of climate-change vulnerability for 19 terrestrial, aquatic, riparian, and coastal ecosystems of the southeastern United States have identified a number of important considerations, including potential for changes in hydrology, disturbance regimes, and interspecies...