Seasons of Smoke

Seasons of Smoke

04 February 2015

published by

USA: Twice as many acres burned in the decade leading up to 2011 than in the one before it.

Some studies show wildfire season growing longer and federal suppression costs have risen over $1 billion annually. The reasons are complex: wildfire management, wildland development, climate change and sheer chance have all been credited. Most data on wildfires are kept by a half dozen federal agencies and are riddled with inconsistencies, redundancies and inaccuracies. But researchers have begun cleaning up their data-collecting efforts. Below, use the slider to explore two decades of wildfire data and check out a few key stories the data tell.

Map availablehere:

About this map

The above map and figures show wildfires occuring between 1992-2012. Charts show aggregate statistics for each fire season based on the available data. The map shows wildfires at their site of discovery. Each point is sized by the total number of acres burned. Because of scale, fires smaller than 1000 acres are not visible on the map. Marker radius does match the distance scale of the map.
A few things to look for:

  • Alaska, often ignored in the discussion of wildfires, has experienced major burns in the past decade. Zoom out on the map to see Alaska.
  • The average time it took firefighters to control wildfires over 1,000 acres stayed around 20 days in the 1990s and peaked at 49 days in 2008.
  • The number of large wildfires (larger than 1000 acres) rose steadily over this time period from 257 in 1992 to 659 in 2012.


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