The combination of frequent droughts, changing climate conditions, and longer fire seasons along with urban development expansion into wildland areas has resulted in more difficult conditions for managing wildfires. Over the last several decades, the size of wildfire burn areas has increased substantially and nine of the 10 years with the largest wildfire burn areas have occurred since 2000. 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 a billion dollars; cumulatively these twelve wildfires have caused a total of $44 billion dollars in damages. As of 2010, 44 million homes in the conterminous United States were located within the wildland-urban-interface, an area where urban development either intermingles with or is in the vicinity of large areas of dense wildland vegetation. These challenging conditions present a unique opportunity to adapt existing wildfire policy and management strategies to present and future wildfire scenarios.
The U.S. Geological Survey conducts post-fire debris-flow hazard assessments for many major fires across the Western United States. The information from these assessments is provided in an interactive map, allowing users to view fires by location or name and access detailed maps of debris-flow probability in the area affected by each fire. Users can select fires by year back to 2013.
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 September 27, both the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held hearings to explore methods of restoring the health and resiliency of national forests and to mitigate the threat of catastrophic wildfires.
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 reducing wildland fire risk, focusing primarily on wildfire management programs and technologies.