Wildfire Statistics

June 23, 2015 Wildfire Statistics Wildfires are unplanned and unwanted fires, including lightning-caused fires, unauthorized human-caused fires, and escaped prescribed fire projects. States are responsible for responding to wildfires that begin on nonfederal (state, local, and private) lands, except for lands protected by federal agencies under cooperative agreements. The federal government is responsible for responding to wildfires that begin on federal lands. The Forest Service (FS)—within the U.S. Department of Agriculture—carries out wildfire management and response across the 193 million acres of the national forest system. The Department of the Interior (DOI) manages the wildfire response for more than 400 million acres of national parks, wildlife refuges and preserves, other public lands, and Indian reservations. Wildfire statistics help to illustrate past U.S. wildfire activity. Nationwide data compiled by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) indicate the number of wildfires has stayed about the same over the last 30 years, but the number of acres burned annually has increased (see Figure 1). Every year since 2000, an average of 74,000 wildfires burned an average 6.6 million acres. This is nearly double the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s (3.6 million acres), although a greater number of fires occurred annually (83,000 on average). Table 1. Annual Wildfires and Acres Burned (2010-2014) 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 No. of Fires (thousands) Federal 14.0 15.0 16.9 14.2 13.0 FS 6.8 6.7 7.1 7.1 6.8 DOI 6.9 7.9 9.6 6.7 6.1 Nonfederal 58.0 59.2 50.9 33.4 50.6 Total 72.0 74.1 67.8 47.6 63.6 Figure 1. Annual Wildfires and Acres Burned (1984-2014) Source: NIFC. Notes: Data reflect wildland fires and acres burned nationwide, including wildland fires on federal and nonfederal lands. Over the last 10 years, nearly 6.9 million acres burned annually on average. The last 2 years have been below that average, with 3.6 million acres burned in 2014 and 4.3 million acres burned in 2013, the second- and third-fewest acres burned annually since 2005. (The least was 3.4 million acres in 2010). The fires in 2013 and 2014 also burned fewer acres than those in 2011 (8.7 million acres) and 2012 (9.3 million acres), which represent the third- and fourth-largest amounts of acreage burned since 1960. The eight largest fire years since 1960 have occurred since 2000, ranging from more than 7 million acres burned to nearly 10 million acres burned. Figure 2. Top Ten Years with Largest Wildfire Acreage Burned Since 1960 Acres Burned (millions) Federal 1.68 3.44 7.24 3.08 2.2 FS 0.32 1.73 2.68 1.37 0.87 DOI 1.30 1.60 4.44 1.59 1.24 Nonfederal 1.74 5.28 2.09 1.23 1.4 Total 3.42 8.71 9.32 4.32 3.60 Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). Notes: Federal includes fires that began on land managed by the Forest Service (FS), Department of the Interior (DOI), and other federal agencies. Nonfederal includes all other lands. Column totals may not add due to rounding. Source: NIFC. www.crs.gov | 7-5700 Wildfire Statistics In 2014, 60% of the nationwide acreage burned by wildfires was on federal lands (2.2 million acres; see Table 1). The other 40% of the acreage burned occurred on state, local, or privately owned lands, but it also accounted for most of the fires (50,570). Of the federal acreage burned nationwide in 2014, 56% (1.24 million acres) burned on DOI land and 40% (0.87 million acres) burned on FS land (see Figure 3). Figure 3. Percentage of Acreage Burned by Landowner (2010-2013) 100% 80% Wildfire Damages Wildfires can have a devastating impact, especially for those communities affected by wildfire activity. Therefore, statistics showing the level of destruction a wildfire causes can be useful. Some more easily quantifiable measures include acres burned, lives lost (firefighters and civilians), structures destroyed, and suppression costs for a specific wildfire. There is no single source for this type of destruction data. Multiple federal and state organizations collect different data. Therefore, the data can usually be found, but in a piecemeal fashion. Firefighter personnel data for the FS and DOI, firefighter fatalities, and structures burned are provided in Table 2. Table 2. FS and DOI Personnel and Loss Statistics (FY2011-FY2014) 60% FY2011 FY2012 FY2013 FY2014 FS Firefighters 10,480 10,480 10,000 10,000 DOI Firefighters 3,664 3,447 3,450 3,450 40% Personnel 20% 0% 2010 Forest Service 2011 DOI 2012 2013 Other Federal 2014 Non-federal Losses Source: NIFC. Firefighter Fatalities 12 15 34 10 More wildfires occur in the East (including the central states), but more acreage burns in the West (including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). In 2014, 42,000 fires burned fewer than 1 million acres in the East, compared with 20,000 wildfires that burned nearly 3 million acres in the West (see Table 1). In the East (where there is less federal acreage), most of the fires occur on nonfederal lands, while in the West most of the fires occur on federal lands (see Figure 4). In 2014, there were slightly fewer than 10,000 fires across nearly 2 million acres of western federal land. In the East, there were more than 3,000 fires across 197,000 acres of federal land. Structures Burned 5,246 4,244 2,135 1,953 Figure 4. Acreage Burned by Region and Landowner (2010-2014) Source: Agency budget justifications and agency emails. Firefighter fatalities data from the NIFC’s Historical Wildland Firefighter Fatality Reports and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Fatalities, Entrapments and Serious Accident Summary Safety Grams. Structures burned year-end totals from the NIFC Wildland Fire Summary and Statistics Annual Report 2014. Notes: Firefighter fatalities and structures burned reflect calendar-year data. Structures include primary residences, commercial buildings, outbuildings, and seasonal dwellings. Conflagrations Only a small fraction of wildfires become catastrophic, and a small percentage of fires accounts for the vast majority of the acres burned. For example, only about 1% of wildfires become conflagrations—raging, destructive fires—but predicting which fires will “blow up” into conflagrations is challenging and depends on a multitude of factors, such as weather and geography. In 2014, only 1% of the wildfires were classified as large or significant (666). Nine of those fires exceeded 40,000 acres in size; four exceeded 100,000 acres. Of the more than 1 million wildfires that have occurred since 2000, approximately 150 exceeded 100,000 acres and 12 exceeded 500,000 acres. CRS Reports CRS Report R43077, Wildfire Management: Federal Funding and Related Statistics. CRS Report R44082, Wildfire Spending: Background, Issues, and Legislation in the 114th Congress Source: NIFC. Notes: West = Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. East = all other states, including Puerto Rico. Katie Hoover, khoover@crs.loc.gov, 7-9008 IF10244 www.crs.gov | 7-5700