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Four Threats - Quick Facts

You are here: Four Threats > Quick Facts > Fire and Fuels

Fire and Fuels

In 2006, approximately 83,000 fires burned nearly 9 million acres in the United States. Fire season did not take a winter holiday, with severe fires in Texas and Oklahoma in December, January and February. A majority of the big fires in the summer months occurred in drought-stricken western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

Wherever wildland fires occur, the post-fire devastation impacts lives and property, wildlife habitat, fragile ecosystems, soil and water quality -- not to mention the lost timber from burned trees -- and most everything in the path of a fire.

Many factors contribute to the number of wildland fires that have been growing, getting larger and gaining in intensity: favorable weather conditions, forest structure, fuel overload, and other factors.

For the 21st century, wild fires in the U.S. have burned the following acres:

  • 2006 – 9.0 million acres
  • 2005 – 8.7 million acres
  • 2004 - 6.8 million acres
  • 2003 – 4.9 million acres
  • 2002 - 6.9million acres
  • 2001 - 3.6 million acres
  • 2000 - 8.4 million acres
Chart - Total Wild Fire Acres Burned All US Lands, 1960-2006

Fighting fires cost money in terms of manpower, equipment, and support systems. Federal agencies spent the following on fire suppression in past years:

  • 2005 - $875 million
  • 2004 - $890 million
  • 2003- $ 1.3 billion
  • 2002 - $1.6 billion
  • 2001 - $917 million
  • 2000 - $1.36 billion

Economic damages in affected communities due to wildland fires are also enormous in terms of burned structures, business losses, and missed recreational opportunities. Of late, damages run into hundreds of million of dollars.

Fuel Treatment Strategy

While fire itself can be important in fire-adapted ecosystems, active forest management is essential to restore and maintain healthy forests and to reduce the risk of wildfire to forests and communities.

Fire Regime Condition Class , developed by the Forest Service with partners in nine other land management agencies and nongovernmental organizations, is a “standardized tool for determining the degree of departure from natural vegetation, fuels and disturbance regimes”. (For detailed information on this subject, visit http://www.frcc.gov).

Treatment Costs per Acre

Hazardous fuels treatments average about $170 per acre for both direct and indirect planning and administration costs. Maintenance treatments by prescribed burning of stands to keep fuels at desired levels tend to be much less expensive, with a higher probability of successfully meeting objectives than restoration treatments that often require a mechanical fuel reduction entry.

Wildland Urban Interface

More and more people are migrating from urban areas and populating rural areas, often adjacent to or within forested areas. This zone where humans live intermingled with undeveloped forests and rangelands is known as the wildland urban interface (WUI). Homes and businesses found in WUIs are the most vulnerable to wildfires. Residents in the WUI are advised to take steps to prevent fires from engulfing their properties. Useful tips for homeowners are available at http://www.firewise.org.

Improving Land Conditions

For updated information on how the Federal land management agencies are improving land conditions, please see http://www.healthyforests.gov/projects/healthy-forests-report-final.pdf

Last Update: 30 October 2006

US Forest Service
Last modified March 28, 2013

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