While it is always fire season somewhere in the U.S. the largest wildfires typically occur during the summer months in the West. As peak western fire season approaches, firefighters have already been busy responding to the more than 8,500 wildfires that have burned approximately one million acres in the west so far this year.
This year, the US Forest Service will have many different types of firefighters, engines and aircraft available for wildfire suppression nationwide. This includes approximately 10,000 professional firefighters. Most are seasonal employees, who work from the spring until the fall.
The Forest Service’s professional firefighters include more than 65 20-person hotshot crews. These are the most highly trained, skilled, and experienced type of hand crews and they typically work on the most challenging parts of wildfires.
Forest Service professional firefighters also include more than 300 Smokejumpers, who parachute in to remote wildfires. In addition, the Forest Service will have about 900 engines of different sizes, with crews ranging from two to five firefighters assigned to each.
Wildfires are suppressed by firefighters on the ground who build containment lines, which are similar to trails, all the way around them. Aircraft often play an important role in supporting firefighters on the ground by dropping water to cool hotspots or fire retardant to reduce the intensity and rate of spread of wildfires.
Each year, on average, about 7,500 wildfires burn about 1.5 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands. Forest Service firefighters, engines, and aircraft will respond not only to these wildfires, but also to wildfires on other federal, state, and private land throughout the country.
The strength of the wildfire suppression system in the U.S. is that federal, state, local, and volunteer agencies and organizations involved in wildfire suppression contribute and share firefighters, engines, and aircraft which are moved across the country as needed. Fire managers from federal, state, and local agencies working together prioritize wildfires to receive firefighters, engines, and aircraft with firefighter and public safety always the top consideration.
Members of the public have an important role to play in wildfire suppression as well by preventing human caused wildfires and by taking actions to protect their homes, neighborhoods, and communities from wildfires.
Nationwide, nine out of ten wildfires are caused by humans. The more human caused wildfires that are prevented, the more firefighters, engines, and aircraft that will be available to suppress wildfires that can’t be prevented, such as those caused by lightning. In 2015, more than 4,500 homes and other structures were destroyed by wildfires nationwide. There are many simple things that homeowners can do now to decrease the chances that their property will become a statistic.