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U.S. Wildfires

A Spatial Database of U.S. Wildfires

Wildfire occurrence records provide baseline information that is essential for wildfire management and research in the United States. However, there are multiple federal, state, and local entities with wildfire protection and reporting responsibilities in the United States, and no single, unified system of wildfire record keeping currently exists. To conduct even the most basic interagency analyses of wildfire numbers and area burned based on official and final fire reports, one must harvest records from dozens of disparate databases with inconsistent information content. After pooling data from different sources, one must check for and purge redundant records of the same fire, including records of multijurisdictional incidents with responses reported by several agencies or departments.

Due to the difficulty of compiling wildfire occurrence data from the numerous reporting systems, analyses of United States wildfire activity are often based on final fire reports from a single federal agency, like the U.S. Forest Service, or rely on summary statistics from the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC), which keeps running tallies of fire numbers and acres burned throughout the year. The NICC estimates are based largely on daily situation reports from participating wildland fire dispatch centers, not individual fire records, and can only be spatially resolved to the reporting unit.

To support research and other applications that require high-resolution spatial wildfire occurrence data for the United States from recent decades, FFS Research Ecologist Karen Short acquired, standardized, error-checked, compiled, and evaluated the completeness of wildfire records for the period 1992-2011 from federal, state, and local wildfire reporting systems.

Nearly 2.6 million records were obtained from 36 sources of federal and non-federal wildfire data. After discarding records lacking values for core data elements and removing redundant reports, the resulting dataset consisted of 1.6 million wildfire records, each indicating the fire’s reported point of origin, discovery date, and final size. Additional unrequired elements, like fire name and cause, were included in the database and populated with values as available. While not part of the original fire reports, record identifiers that could be used to link to related wildfire data products, including a national dataset of satellite-derived fire perimeters, were also included for a subset of the fires.

While necessarily incomplete in some aspects, the database is intended to facilitate fairly high-resolution geospatial analysis of United States wildfire activity over the past two decades, based on available information from the authoritative systems of record. The database was developed to support the national, interagency Fire Program Analysis (FPA) system, but has widespread utility in the fields of wildland fire science and management as well as areas of ecological and geophysical research, including the carbon and climate sciences.

Photo: Fire moving through a ponderosa pine forest. The “cat face” or fire scar on the ponderosa pine reveals that this tree has survived several past fires. Photo courtesy of Ilana Abrahamson / FFS.

Photo: Fire moving through a ponderosa pine forest.
Modified: May 29, 2014

Select Publications & Products

Data Product Information:

Spatial wildfire occurrence data for the United States, 1992-2011

A second edition, which includes data for calendar year 2012.

Publication Information:

A spatial database of wildfires in the United States, 1992-2011