We support collaborative wildfire suppression on lands managed by federal and state agencies and Tribes. Key suppression activities include extinguishing fires when possible, controlling fire movement and growth to prevent losses, and conducting emergency stabilization after a fire.
Suppression scenes: the Bureau of Land Management Devil's Canyon Veterans Crew hikes in a line before digging fireline on a wildfire near Helena, Montana. (Photo by Matt Irving, BLM contract photographer)
$649 million: money spent by this program in Fiscal Year 2022
5,800: number of wildland firefighting and support personnel in Fiscal Year 2023
68,988: Number of wildfires in the United States in 2022
7.5 million: Number of acres burned in the United States in 2022
70: average number of acres per fire in 1990
110: average number of acres per fire in 2022
Datasource: National Interagency Coordination Center
Suppression involves extinguishing a wildfire, preventing or modifying the movement of unwanted fire, or managing a fire when it provides benefits like vegetation reduction or improved wildlife habitat. Firefighters control a fire's spread by removing one of three ingredients fire needs to burn: heat, oxygen, or fuel. They remove heat by applying water or fire retardant on the ground with pumps or wildland fire engines, or by air using helicopters or airplanes. They remove fuel by removing burnable vegetation with hand tools, by using heavy equipment like bulldozers, and by setting controlled fires to rob an approaching wildfire of fuel.
Wildfire growth is based on weather, topography, and fuel. Fire managers must react quickly to changing conditions and may use varied strategies and tactics to control different areas of the same fire. No matter what, the primary objective of any suppression operation is to protect life and property, as well as any valued natural and cultural resources.
Suppression costs have more than tripled over the last few decades, from $200 million in 1994 to over 649 million in 2022. A number of factors have driven this change:
• Pervasive droughts, earlier/faster snowmelt, and extended growing seasons have lengthened fire seasons into fire years.
• Vegetation has accumulated due to a century of wildfire suppression.
• Population growth and home construction in wildfire-prone areas called the wildland urban interface. This means landscapes that need fire are increasingly mixed with houses that need to be protected from fire.
• The spread of invasive annual grasses causing rangelands to burn more frequently.
• Insect infestations increasing the amount of dead, standing timber that provides more fuel for wildfires.
Fire managers work to balance the cost of suppression, the safety of people and property, natural and cultural resource protection, and the need for fire on many landscapes. Wildfires that pose no risk to people, property, or valued resources may be managed to encourage fire’s natural role in the ecosystem. This can result in positive benefits like returning nutrients to the soil, promoting some plant species germination, and restoring habitat diversity. A wildfire that poses limited risk to people or property may be suppressed in one area and allowed to play its natural role in another. Managing wildfires to benefit ecosystems can have positive results like reducing vegetation and building the ability to recover from future wildfires.
While wildfires are a natural part of many ecosystems, some fires burn so hot they incinerate everything over a large area, including the plant roots and organic matter that stabilize the topsoil. This can result in erosion, flooding, mudslides, delayed plant recovery, reduced water quality, and other problems.
After a wildfire, emergency stabilization work is done to prevent further damage to life, property, and natural resources. Stabilization work begins immediately and may continue for up to a year, with monitoring efforts up to three years after a fire. A program called Burned Area Rehabilitation handles longer-term projects that often require several years of work.
Office of Wildland Fire staff oversee suppression spending throughout the Department of the Interior. In the field work is carried out by staff in the four Department bureaus with wildland fire management responsibilities (the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) working in tandem with our many partners.
Looking for current incident information or nationwide forecasts for wildland fire? Check out these resources: