Us: an introduction to the Forest Service
Fire & Aviation Management Program
The first forest reserves were establish in 1891 and were initially under the management of the Department of Interior's General Land Office, but the first foresters worked for the Bureau of Forestry in Department of Agriculture. In 1905, President Roosevelt transferred the forest reserves to the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. Today, the Bureau of Forestry is the USDA Forest Service, although it is still funded under the Interior Appropriations bills passed by Congress each year. The forest reserves grew in time, and today's National Forests encompass 191 million acres.
In the 19th and early 20th century, there was little organized response for wildfires in forests and rangelands. Many fires had devastating results, such as the Peshtigo Fire in 1871 which burned more than 3.5 million acres in Wisconsin and Michigan and resulted in 1,500 deaths. In 1902, the Yacolt Fire in the southwestern Washington burned about a million acres and cost 38 lives. The "Big Blowup" in 1910 burned nearly 3 million acres in the northern Rockies. During this time, fires were primarily fought on federal, state and private lands by Forest Service personnel and area residents. This was mostly hand-to-hand combat with wildfire, using wet burlap bags, axes, and water buckets to try and stop the advancing flames.
As large fires occurred across the United States, State and local governments began to act. After the severe wildfires in Montana and Idaho in 1910, more emphasis was placed on telephone communications and fire patrols. State Fire Warden positions were established, especially in the west, and legislation such as the Weeks Law in 1911 and the Clarke-McNary Act in 1924 enhanced the Federal-State fire suppression partnership. These programs grew into the Forest Service's State and Private Forestry division, of which Fire and Aviation Management is a part. In 1944, Congress increased the scope of the Clarke-McNary Act to create an emphasis on fire prevention.
Fire research began in 1899, after Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot authorized a study on the history of forest fires to better understand the damage. Fire research evolved from this early request into today's sophisticated analysis of fuels, combustion, weather and safety.
The role of fire management has changed a great deal with the times. In 1935, the Forest Service had a "10 a.m." policy which stipulated that a fire was to be contained and controlled by 10 a.m. following the report of a fire, for, failing that goal, control by 10 a.m. the next day and so on. Today fire is recognized as an important component of healthy ecosystems. The policy of fire suppression on every fire has transitioned to suppression or, where appropriate, fire use to achieve resource objectives.
Firefighting took to the air shortly after World War I as the Forest Service used aircraft to patrol for wildfires. Smokejumpers came on the scene to fight their first fire in 1940. In 1956, the first practical drops of water and chemicals onto wildfires began, and helicopters began to assist with firefighting in the 1950's.
Changing social issues in the last one hundred years have shown the need for continued fire prevention messages from Smokey, but also a shift to more fire use projects and smoke management studies . Concepts such as defensible space, especially in the urban interface, have become a focal point as more homes and communities are built in or adjacent to public lands. Interagency cooperation with the advent of the National Fire Plan in fuels reduction, community assistance, and an increasingly diverse workforce continue to challenge Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management. We have reached out to assist state and local fire departments throughout the United States, and cooperate with other countries and commonwealths throughout the world.
In the new millennium, the Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management Program has become the premier leader in wildland fire management, operations, and research. In today's rapidly changing world of communications and technology, Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management is on the cutting edge with aviation technology, computer simulated fire management programs and sophisticated resource tracking systems.
The Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management part of the Forest Service continues, even through sometimes dramatic environmental, economic, political and social change, to work our core values: Safety. Mutual Respect. Integrity.