2000 Wildland Fire Season Wrap-Up

Robert M. Winston recaps the worst U.S. wildland firefighting season in decades.


The long and destructive 2000 wildland fire season ended, for the most part, with a spate of large fires in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia with smaller fires were burning in several other states during late October into November. Photo by Robert M. Winston For a...


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The long and destructive 2000 wildland fire season ended, for the most part, with a spate of large fires in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia with smaller fires were burning in several other states during late October into November.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
For a variety of reasons last year's fire season saw almost double the number of acres burned than over the previous 10 years. In 2000, a total of 7,2250,965 acres burned, compared to a 10-year average of 3,786,411 acres.

It seemed as though this fire season just did not want to end. For example, on Nov. 15, Kentucky had 53,000 acres burning on the Southeast District Complex Fire. It was 90% contained and 711 firefighters were assigned to the fire.

The 2000 wildland fire season also was tragic due to the line-of-duty deaths of 21 structural and wildland career, seasonal, inmate and volunteer firefighters.

The following is from the Public Affairs Office of the National Inter-agency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, ID:

"As a result of La Nina and its influence on weather patterns, a combination of dry fuels and dry, hot weather led to what some are declaring as one of the most severe wildland fire seasons in U.S. history. The absence of the seasonal monsoons in the Southwest, the dry vegetation and record-low fuel moisture and the persistently hot weather across much of the West, culminated in a wildland fire season that began early, became intense and widespread, and lasted for an unusually long period.

"Fire activity began in February with large grass fires in New Mexico. Fire activity moved eastward and northward into Virginia. By the end of February, fires were reported in Louisiana, Missouri and Texas …"

"In April, Type 1 incident command teams managed California's wind-driven Cabbage Fire on the Mendocino National Forest and on the Coon Creek Fire on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. There were also large fires in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Florida, Colorado, North Carolina and North Dakota.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
During the worst day last year, 86 major fires were burning across the country at the same time.

"The fire season began in earnest, however, with an escaped prescribed fire on the Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, NM. By the time this fire was controlled, 235 homes in Los Alamos were destroyed and 47,650 acres scorched. (See "The Cerro Grande Fire," Firehouse®, August 2000.)

"Fuel moisture in vegetation dropped to unusually low levels. Drought conditions were reported in many states. Very high to extreme fire danger indices were reported in nearly every western state.

"By July 24, nine of 11 geographic areas, including 11 western states and Texas, were managing many large fires and competing for crews of firefighters, aircraft, equipment, supplies and overhead (management) personnel.

"On July 28, NIFC declared a planning Level 5 - the highest possible - and began implementing strategies to address the serious situation. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 firefighters were working to contain large fires or extinguishing new fires with initial attack. Then the military was requested and 500 Army troops and 500 Marines bolstered firefighting forces on the nations largest fires. Fire managers also requested assistance from their international partners, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and American Samoa.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
It took more than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel from the United States and from countries around the world to control the fire storm.

"Two area command teams were set up in Montana, and two more were added by the end of the month. All of the national Type 1 incident command teams were assigned to fires, and all 70 of the Type 1 hand crews were committed as well as most of the 409 Smokejumpers. Of the 428 Type 2 and crews, about 15 would become available each day only to be reassigned to high priority fires.

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