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As the costs of fighting wildfires grow each year with longer, hotter, more unpredictable fire seasons, the Forest Service has experienced significant shifts in staffing and resources. The Forest Service estimates that within a decade, the agency will spend more than two-thirds of its budget to battle ever-increasing fires, while mission-critical programs that can help prevent fires in the first place such as forest restoration and watershed and landscape management will continue to suffer. Meanwhile, these catastrophic blazes are projected to burn twice as many acres by 2050.
The Forest Service and its partners suppress more than 98 percent of wildfires on initial attack, keeping unwanted fires small and costs down. However, the few fires that cannot be suppressed during the initial stages run the risk of becoming much larger.
Forest Service Chief Tidwell announced on May 17 that working with federal and state partners, in the 2016 fire season the Forest Service will be able to respond to wildfires by mobilizing:
- 10,000 firefighters
- 900 engines
- 300 helicopters
- 21 airtankers
- 2 water scoopers
- 30+ aerial supervision fixed-wing aircraft
Restoration work in our forests reduces the likelihood, size and severity of wildfires. USDA and our partners are working with at-risk communities to promote community and homeowner involvement in mitigating wildfire risk, reducing hazardous fuels and accomplishing treatments that increase forest health and resilience.
For the first time in its 111-year history, over half of the Forest Service's 2015 budget was designated to fight wildfires, compared to just 16 percent in 1995, shifting funding from mission-critical programs that can help prevent fires in the first place.
- 2015 was the most expensive fire season in the department's history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone
- Last summer wildfire suppression cost the U.S. Forest Service a record $243 million in just one week
- Over the last two years, $237 million has been permanently shifted from the Forest Service non-fire budget forcing the department to abandon critical restoration and capital improvement projects in order to suppress extreme fires
- This shift was before a single fire broke out in 2016, and doesn't include funds that could potentially be transferred due to inadequate funding, a total of $700 million in 2015
Last year, seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team were lost in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed.
The true cost of fighting wildfire includes the loss of restoration work that would help prevent severe fires isn't getting done; protection of watersheds that millions of people in urban areas rely on is lacking; and maintenance of infrastructure that supports cultural resources, thousands of recreation jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity in rural communities is deferred.
Our current fire outlook underscores the need to reform wildfire funding.
Impacts of Climate Change
Over the last 10 years we've seen 16 of the most historically significant wildfires on record going back to 1805, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Climate change has led to fire seasons that are, on average:
- 78 days longer than they were in 1970
- Average number of acres burned each year has doubled since 1980
Resources to Help You Protect Your Family, Home and Community
How to Protect Your Home from a Wildland Fire
The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) provides families with tips and safety measures to help prevent or minimize damage from wildfire. NIFC also provides the monthly "National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook" from May through September and provides weekly data on current wildfires.
The National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Firewise Communities program provides tips and other resources for families and encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters, and others in the effort to protect people and property from wildfire risks.
Fire Adapted Communities
A Fire Adapted Community takes responsibility for its wildfire risk. Actions address resident safety, homes, neighborhoods, businesses and infrastructure, forests, parks, open spaces, and other community assets.
Ready! Set! Go!
Prepare long before the threat of a wildland fire - escape routes, action plans and other resources for community organizations, families and individuals.
U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Information
The U.S. Forest Service has been managing wildland fire for more than 100 years. As the world's premiere firefighting agency, the agency has been providing critically needed resources and expertise to protect at-risk communities. From 'boots on the ground' to airtanker drops overhead, Forest Service personnel are answering the call.
Protect Yourself from Wildland Smoke
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
How to Keep Food Safe When the Power Goes Out
- Food Safety During Power Outages :30 (English) 8/07 mp3 (MP3, 590 KB)
- Food Safety During Power Outages :30 (Spanish) 8/07 mp3 (MP3, 591 KB)
- Food Safety During Power Outages :60 (English) 8/07 mp3 (MP3, 1.2 MB)
- Food Safety During Power Outages :60 (Spanish) 8/07 mp3 (MP3, 1.2 MB)
- The Power Out VIDEO PSAs
- Script - Food Safety During Power Outages (English) (PDF, 492 KB)
- Script - Food Safety During Power Outages (Spanish) (PDF, 558 KB)