National Fire Plan

America´s National Fire Plan
(IFFN No. 27 – July 2002, p. 14-16)

A Season to Remember

Every year weather and fuel specialists predict the potential for wildland fire activity across the United States based on weather patterns, drought conditions, and the dryness of the vegetation. The one factor for which its potential cannot be predicted, however, is lightning, and the amount and location of lightning may mean the difference between a mild and a severe fire season.
In the summer of 2000, the potential for a severe fire season based on weather and fuel conditions was very real when the last factor – lightning – fell into place. The result was widespread fires that were erratic, intense, and explosive. The fires not only threatened people and firefighters but destroyed property and damaged natural resources.
In early August, then-President Clinton visited the Burgdorf Junction Fire, near McCall, Idaho, to see firsthand the fire situation in the West. During that trip, President Clinton asked the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to develop recommendations on how to reduce the impacts of fire on rural communities and ensure sufficient firefighting resources for the future. They responded with “Managing the Impacts of Wildfires on Communities and the Environment: A Report to the President in Response to the Wildfires of 2000,”which is also known as the “National Fire Plan.”
Congress then supported the President’s Report with a budget appropriation for the federal agencies in 2001 of nearly $2.9 billion ($1.9 for the Forest Service and $979 million for Interior), and in 2002, nearly $2.3 billion.
The National Fire Plan is, in essence, a long-term commitment founded on interagency and intergovernmental partnerships and cooperation to enhance the wildland firefighting response, reduce the threat of fire to communities and natural resources, restore and rehabilitate lands damaged by fire and, most importantly, increase the safety of the public and firefighters. The Plan recognizes that wildlands did not deteriorate overnight to the point where fires that occur become large and threatening, but that it took many decades of effective fire suppression for fuels to accumulate and land health to suffer, and it will take many years to correct the problem. The Plan emphasizes the importance of treating hazardous fuel prior to a fire starting rather than relying on suppression efforts alone, and that accomplishing this task is along-term process.

What the National Fire Plan Looks Like

The National Fire Plan contains five key points: 1)Firefighting – ensure firefighting resources are adequate; 2) Rehabilitation and Restoration – restore landscapes and rebuild communities; 3) Hazardous Fuel Reduction – invest in projects to reduce fire risks; 4) Community Assistance -work directly with communities; and 5) Accountability.



The 2001 appropriation provided 100 percent of the funding firefighting agencies needed to respond to fires at the most efficient and safe level, while achieving resource management objectives and minimizing the cost of suppression and resource damage. The Plan included a workforce development strategy enabling agencies to hire nearly 5,500 additional firefighters. These included hiring additional seasonal and new permanent staffing fire management and related positions and converting some temporary employee appointments to permanent. Most of the new jobs are entry-level forestry aids or technician jobs assigned to firefighting positions, but some are higher graded positions in fire management and related disciplines.

Fire Facilities Maintenance and Construction

Adequate fire facilities are critical to efficient and safe fire operations. Funding was provided in the 2001 appropriation for maintenance and capital improvement of wildland fire facilities such as air tanker bases (tankers are critical to initial attack), crew facilities, engine houses and helitack bases to address and eliminate critical health and safety problems. In all, about $38 million was spent to improve or maintain 144facilities, including air tanker bases in Montana, Oregon, California, NewMexico, Utah and Arizona.


With funding provided through the National Fire Plan and 2001 appropriation, additional equipment was purchased including 406wildland firefighting engines, 56 bulldozers, 14 tractor plows and 24 water/foam tenders. An additional 31 helicopter contracts were also issued. The equipment has been positioned across the country with the majority located in the West.

Fire Science Research and Technology Development

Since 1998 the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) has been developing science-based, interagency approaches in fuels inventory and mapping, evaluation of fuels treatments, scheduling of fuels treatments, and monitoring of treatment effects and effectiveness. The 2001 appropriation doubled funding to $16.6 million for the JFSP, helping to fund 22 research projects focused on gathering information and developing tools to help firefighters better prepare for wildfires and allocate firefighting resources. This research included identifying smoke transport patterns, predicting fire weather conditions, and improving fire risk assessments. All of this work helps firefighters make critical safety decisions; guide deployment of firefighting forces to increase efficiency; and reduce damages to resources, people and property.

Rehabilitation and Restoration

Short-term rehabilitation projects help prevent further damage to ecosystems and communities as a result of fire, while long-term restoration projects help improve land unlikely to recover naturally from fire, prevent invasions of noxious weeds and exotic species, and reduce disease and bug infestations. Total funding for rehabilitation and restoration work in the2001 appropriation was about $246 million, allowing treatment on 2.5 million acres of land through 549 projects in 19 states. Projects in the wildland-urban interface received special consideration.

Hazardous Fuel Reduction

About $400 million was provided in the 2001appropriation for fuel management and reduction to address dense forest vegetation resulting from decades of wildfire suppression and fire exclusion on federal lands. Activities focus on wildland-urban interface areas to reduce the risks of fire to people and property. These projects helped support local communities by using local contractors and assistance. Fuel treatments were completed on more than two million acres of federal land in 2001, including611,550 acres in the wildland-urban interface.

Community Assistance

Rural, Volunteer and State Fire Assistance

Safe and effective fire suppression in the wildland-urban interface demands close coordination between rural, local, state, tribal and federal firefighting agencies. The 2001 and 2002 appropriations earmarked $10 million for a new Department of the Interior rural fire assistance program. This funding helped enhance the fire protection capabilities of rural fire departments through training, equipment purchase and prevention work on a cost-shared basis.

The Forest Service has had similar programs in place for many years. The 2001appropriation for the Forest Service targeted $75.5 million for its state fire assistance program; $13.3 million for its volunteer fire assistance program;$12.5 million for Economic Action Programs; and $35 million for community and private land fire assistance.

Fire Prevention and Education

A critical element of the National Fire Plan is to help the public understand wildland fire and the challenges it presents where wildlands intermingle with urban and suburban lands. FIREWISE, a program with an online web site, publications, videos, and training events, provides educational programs and materials to help people create wildland fire resistant homes and communities. Through the National Fire Plan, $5 million was used for development and delivery of a national series of FIREWISE workshops.

Communities at Risk

In the 2001 appropriation, Congress directed the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to work with individual states and tribes to develop a list of communities in the wildland-urban interface at high risk from wildfire. Based on this list, 1,776 communities in the vicinity of Interior or Forest Service lands were scheduled to receive hazardous fuel treatments. Additional communities, not in the vicinity of federal land, had projects funded through Forest Service State Fire Assistance funds, VolunteerFire Assistance, and Economic Action funds.


One of the cornerstones of the National Fire Plan is accountability. Indeed, the success of the Plan depends upon constant review of the programs and plans developed to implement the Plan. Toward this end, agencies have accomplished much in the year since the Plan was established. For example, early in 2002, the Interagency Wildland Fire Leadership Council was established to provide oversight and coordinate the efforts of the federal and state agencies. Additional opportunities to improve coordination and integration have also been explored with oversight and external organizations including theGeneral Accounting Office, both Departments’ Offices of Inspector General, theOffice of Management and Budget, National Academy of Public Administration, theNational Association of Counties, the National Association of State Foresters and the Western Governors’ Association.

What Happens Next

In August 2001 the Secretaries of Agriculture andInterior joined the Western Governors’ Association, National Association ofState Foresters, National Association of Counties and the Intertribal TimberCouncil in endorsing “A Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland FireRisks to Communities and the Environment: A 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy.”The strategy outlines a comprehensive approach to managing wildland fire, hazardous fuel, and ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation on federal and adjacent state, tribe and private forest and rangeland across the United States. The strategy emphasizes measures to reduce the risk to communities and the environment and provides a framework for collaboration to accomplish this. As soon as the strategy was signed, work began on an implementation plan, which was finalized and signed on May 23, 2002. The implementation plan outlines the goals and actions necessary to accomplish the strategy and emphasizes local decisions for local problems, collaborative decision-making, and a commitment of many groups is accountability including industry, environmental and governmental. In essence, the strategy and plan provide a long-term map and directions for implementing the National Fire Plan was established more details see:

In August 2000, when 86 fires were burning in 12 western states and nearly20,000 firefighters were on the lines or in support positions, no one could imagine a silver lining in the cloud. Yet that’s exactly what the National Fire Plan has become. Federal wildland agencies and their state partners are more prepared than ever before to stop fires while they’re small, reduce the threat of wildland fire to people, communities and natural resources, and rehabilitate or restore land damaged by fire. No, fires that grow large, dangerous and threatening will not be eliminated overnight – it took decades for the land to deteriorate to the point where these types of fires occur –but with the National Fire Plan federal and state agencies at least have a fighting chance.

IFFN/GFMC contribution submitted by:

Nancy Lull
Bureau of Land Management
National Interagency Fire Center
Boise, Idaho 83705-5354

IFFN No. 27

Country Notes

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