Looking at a map of the U.S. showing land ownership, it is easy to understand why wildland fire management must be an interagency effort. There are very few places where large blocks of land are under the jurisdiction of just one agency. Instead, federal, tribal, state, local, and private lands are intermixed. Wildfires don’t’ stop at property boundaries. In fact, wildfires that start on land under the jurisdiction of one agency often burn onto land under the jurisdiction of another agency or multiple agencies. In addition, no one agency has enough firefighters, engines, aircraft, or equipment to manage on their own all wildland fires that occur on land under their jurisdiction.
The strength of the wildland fire management system in the U.S. is that federal, tribal, state, and local government agencies all work together. Through mutual aid agreements, agencies send their firefighters, engines, aircraft, and equipment to wildfires on land under the jurisdiction of other agencies to help out. Through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) agencies develop interagency standards, guidelines, qualifications, training, and other capabilities that enable interoperable operations.
While the U.S. has more firefighters, engines, aircraft, and equipment than any other country in the world, during periods of high wildfire activity, they can become fully committed. At those times, the U.S. military and international partners can be called to help.