Director’s Report: Tackling the 2024 Fire Year and Beyond

A female firefighter carries a drip torch as she puts small amounts of fire on the ground during a controlled burn.

A female wildland firefighter wields a drip torch during a prescribed fire conducted in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains. Photo by Tyson Finnicum, BLM.


Although the bulk of the 2024 fire year is ahead of us, we’ve already seen extreme fire activity this year. Nationally, the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) reports more than 8,433 wildfires have burned over 1.7 million acres, threatening lives, property, and natural resources in states like Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, and Virginia. NICC also reports that we’ve surpassed the ten-year average for acres burned for this time of year three-fold.

An above-average start to the fire year supports the fact that we need to continue accelerating the pace and scale of our efforts to address the wildfire crisis. The President’s budget for fiscal year 2025 includes $1.6 billion for critical wildland fire management actions, such as increasing firefighter pay, enhancing firefighter health and wellbeing support, expanding firefighting capacity, wildfire risk reduction work, and post-wildfire recovery efforts. These investments will help address the effects of climate change and wildfire impacts on public health, communities, and natural and cultural resources while continuing to support comprehensive reforms for the wildland fire management workforce.

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission in 2021 and charged it with recommending improvements to how federal agencies manage wildfire across the landscape. The commission’s final report, submitted to Congress on September 27, 2023, reflects the most sweeping and comprehensive review of the wildfire system to date. Ongoing Interior efforts, such as workforce reform, firefighter pay and health and wellbeing, fuels management, and post-wildfire recovery, align with the report’s recommendations. The commission’s report serves as a collective, consensus-driven roadmap for our efforts to tackle the Nation’s wildfire issues and foster resilient ecosystems and communities that can live with wildfire.  

An essential component of this work involves investing in our wildland fire workforce. Already this year, we have seen wildland firefighters work under extreme conditions to save lives and protect communities and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire, with a significant portion of the fire year still ahead of us. Our commitment to supporting our workforce means preventing fatigue and burnout by balancing time away from home and ensuring adequate rest in between wildfire incidents. It also reinforces the need for our ongoing workforce reforms.    

Effective wildland fire response requires a fairly compensated workforce. The pay supplements introduced by President Biden in 2021 provided the first meaningful pay increase for federal and Tribal wildland firefighters in decades. These pay increases have continued through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and subsequent appropriations; however, we still lack a permanent solution. Every firefighter, from entry-level to the most seasoned fireline leaders, knows that a fully supported, well-compensated workforce is the key to tackling the wildland fire challenges of the future. Achieving a lasting pay solution remains a top priority for the Interior Department.

Another part of our workforce focus is recruitment. We’re using employment tools like Direct Hire Authority, which allows Interior to hire wildland fire personnel quickly and efficiently. We’re also employing streamlined recruitment efforts like in-person, department-wide hiring events. Our most recent wildland fire career fair was held in Denver this month. These tools expand our ability to reach potential candidates and streamline the federal hiring process with the goal of recruiting the talent that will carry our wildland fire program into the future.  

In support of these efforts, the President’s 2025 budget builds on the administration’s historic investments in the federal wildland fire workforce by supporting permanent, comprehensive pay reform and increased investments to enhance health and wellbeing services, hire additional permanent and temporary wildland fire personnel, and improve affordable housing options. These investments will help address long-standing recruitment and retention challenges, increase the Department’s capacity to complete critical risk mitigation work, and further the administration’s commitment to build a more robust and resilient wildland fire workforce.  

As we all know, perseverance is key to tackling the challenges ahead of us. While we are prepared for the 2024 fire year, we know that climate change, invasive plants, a continually evolving wildland urban interface, and other challenges mean that our current workforce reform efforts are essential to meet wildland fire suppression and risk reduction needs into the future.

As the Director of the Office of Wildland Fire, Jeff Rupert oversees the Department of the Interior’s Wildland Fire Management Program, which spans four bureaus and administers over 535 million acres of public and Tribal lands. In this role, he sets policy and ensures the program’s $1.5 billion budget is strategically invested to reduce wildfire risk, rehabilitate burned landscapes, promote a better understanding of wildfire, and support firefighters. During more than 30 years with the Department of the Interior, Rupert also served as the Chief of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning and as a refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service.