Office of Wildland Fire History

A series of events in the 1980s and 1990s highlighted the need for increased spending on wildland fire management. With the growing budget came demands for more consolidated oversight within the Department of the Interior. These events led to the creation of the Office of Wildland Fire.

Crews hose down buildings near Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park as a wildfire approaches. The 1988 fires in Yellowstone highlighted the need for increased planning and management of wildfires across the country. Photo by Jeff Henry, National Park Service.

Quick Facts

1992: The Office of Management and Budget established a departmentwide fund for Interior’s wildland fire management.
1992: Interior’s Office of Policy, Management and Budget created an Interior Fire Coordinator position.
2001: The Secretary of the Interior established the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination.
2008: Interior’s departmental wildland fire management account was transferred to the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination.
2012: The office’s name was shorted to the Office of Wildland Fire.

Within the Department of the Interior, four bureaus have primary responsibility for wildland fire management. They are the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Traditionally, each fire bureau managed its own wildland fire management program, setting policy and overseeing the program's budget.


In 1987, large wildfires burned across northern California and southwest Oregon. The following year, the famous 1988 fires burned in and around Yellowstone National Park. A review of the Yellowstone fires indicated a lack of adequate planning and funding contributed to the difficulty in managing the fires. 

Concern over these prominent wildfires prompted work to begin on a series of budgetary and organizational changes for Interior's wildland fire management. The changes were intended to improve planning and management. 


To support improved consistency in wildland fire management across the Interior Department, in 1992, the Office of Management and Budget established a $200 million departmentwide fund, which was held in a Bureau of Land Management account. Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget created an Interior Fire Coordinator position to manage the account. The coordinator developed consistent wildland fire management policy, program, and budget oversight across Interior's four fire bureaus. In 1994, the Interior Fire Coordinator position was moved to the Office of Managing Risk and Public Safety.

The importance of these efforts was emphasized in 1994, when 34 wildland firefighters tragically lost their lives in the line of duty, including 14 lives lost during the South Canyon Fire in Colorado.

In 1995, the departments of the Interior and Agriculture published the first  Federal Wildland Fire Policy. It reaffirmed a commitment to firefighter and public safety; protecting resources and property; managing vegetation through prescribed fire and mechanical treatments, particularly in the wildland urban interface; and recognized the important role that wildland fire plays in resource management. This document has been the foundation for federal wildland fire management ever since.


    The fire season at the start of the 2000s further increased recognition that improved accountability and consistency in wildland fire policy was needed across Interior's bureaus. In particular, a prescribed fire in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 2000 escaped and grew into the devastating Cerro Grande Fire. The northern Rocky Mountains also experienced an extreme fire season that year. 

    In Fiscal Year 2001, Congress provided substantial new funding totaling $979 million for wildland fire management across the Interior Department. Along with this funding came congressional direction to aggressively reduce the risk of wildfire in the wildland urban interface, as well as demands for increased consistency, accountability, and stakeholder engagement in wildland fire management.  


    To achieve these objectives, the Secretary of the Interior created the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination in 2001 to ensure the “integration, coordination, and oversight of wildland fire policy across the Department.” The new office was tasked with: 

    • Consolidating financial, budgetary, and program oversight within one organization at the Department level. 
    • Overseeing and integrating the wildland fire management programs of Interior's four fire bureaus and the U.S. Geological Survey. 
    • Reflecting the departmentwide nature of wildland fire management. 
    • Serving as a liaison between the Department and the USDA Forest Service, along with other federal, Tribal, state, and local governments and non-governmental organizations involved in wildland fire management. 

    Management of Interior's wildland fire account was transferred to the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination in 2008. 


      In 2011, the scope of Office of Wildland Fire Coordination's mission was expanded to include improving wildland fire technology. The National Wildland Fire Enterprise Architecture Blueprint provided direction for the office to work with partners at the USDA Forest Service on the consolidation and development of new information technology that supports the wildland fire community.

      In 2012, the office's name was shortened to the Office of Wildland Fire. The office's structure and functions were added to the Departmental Manual under the Office of Policy, Management and Budget.


      Wildland fire management has changed drastically over the last 50 years, particularly as wildfire activity increases and more people move into wildfire-prone areas.

      Today, the Office of Wildland Fire provides direction and oversight for Interior's wildland fire management program, which spans 536 million acres and includes over 5,400 full and part-time employees. The office establishes policy, develops and executes budgets, manages program oversight, coordinates workloads, and pursues technological innovations.

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