Wildfires are a force of nature that can be nearly as impossible to prevent, and as difficult to control, as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Wildfire can be a friend and a foe. In the right place at the right time, wildfire can create many environmental benefits, such as reducing grass, brush, and trees that can create bigger and more severe wildfires and improve wildlife habitat. In the wrong place at the wrong time, wildfire can wreak havoc, threatening lives, homes, communities, and natural/cultural resources. The Forest Service has been managing wildfires on National Forests and Grasslands for more than 100 years. The agency has one of the largest, most diverse, best equipped, and highly trained wildfire suppression forces in the world. Successfully managing wildfires is a year-round job that requires action before they start, while they are burning, and after they are out.
Before Wildfires Begin
Successfully managing wildfires requires preemptive measures on the part of the U.S. Forest Service, partner agencies, communities, and individuals. The Forest Service reduces risks associated with uncharacteristic wildfires on 2 to 3 million acres of National Forest System land each year by igniting prescribed fires and by mechanical thinning to decrease the amount of grass, brush, and trees and other “hazardous fuels.” Learn more about how the Forest Service manages wildfires. For the last 10 years, an average of about 3,500 human-caused wildfires have burned an average of approximately 400,000 acres of National Forest System land annually, with most caused by campfires. Learn what you can do to prevent wildfires at smokeybear.com. More than 70,000 communities are located within or adjacent to forests and rangelands. There are many steps that residents and communities can take to protect homes, businesses, and other structures from wildfires. Additional information is available at fireadapted.org
The Forest Service hires about 8,400 temporary wildland firefighters each year. Learn more about temporary wildland firefighters in the Forest Service. The agency also contracts with private vendors to provide a variety of goods and services to support wildfire management. Learn more about wildland fire contractor opportunities.
Management of wildfires on National Forest System, and other federal land, is governed by the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy. In 2009, guidance for implementation of the policy changed to provide agency administrators and fire managers with more flexibility in determining the appropriate response. The Forest Service is well prepared to respond to wildfires safely and effectively, with more than 10,000 firefighters, 900 engines, and hundreds of aircraft available for wildfire suppression. Learn more about wildland firefighters and the equipment used.
While many wildfires cause little damage to the land and pose few threats to fish, wildlife and people downstream, some fires create situations that require special efforts to prevent further problems after the fire. The U.S. Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program addresses these situations.