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 strategy dictated protection of human life as the first priority and that would not change. However, the second priority was shifted from protection of property and natural resources to initial attack. New fire starts had to be extinguished while they were small. The third priority became the protection of communities, population centers, critical natural resources such as drinking water, infrastructures and utilities."

"By the end of August, two more military battalions and more than 550 Canadian firefighters, plus firefighters from New Zealand and Australia were supporting fires in Montana and elsewhere. In total, more than 30,000 people, including structural firefighters, state personnel, National Guard, Army, Marines, rural firefighters and people from outside the United States were on the firelines or filling overhead positions.

"As August rolled into September, three things happened: first, the number of fires peaked at 86; second, fire activity increased dramatically in the southern states; and third, the hot dry weather eased in the northwest bringing cooler temperatures, higher humidity and rain showers over the central mountains of Idaho and across some of the fires in Montana. Almost overnight, firefighters were suddenly gaining ground, containing more fires than were being reported. The threats to communities from fires diminished the northwest. On Sept. 6, national fire managers dropped the preparedness level down from five to four.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
To support 20,000 firefighters, 500 Army troops and 500 Marines were brought in. This freed up firefighters to handle initial-attack operations.

"As September moved into October, things began to ease a bit more. Southern and southwestern states were still getting new fire starts, though most of those fires were contained within two or three days. By October 10, only one large fire was reported and that was near containment.

"As of Nov. 3, large fires were being fought in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. National incident management teams were dispatched to these areas.

"As of Nov. 13, there were a reported 90,482 fires, burning 7,250,965 acres, destroying about 860 structures nationwide at a suppression cost of over $900 million to date during the 2000 wildland fire season."

Those are the stats and facts for this one of the worst wildland fire seasons recorded in modern times. No one person and no collective scientific think tank can accurately predict what the 2001 wildland fire season will be like. But, if it is going to be anything like last year's wildland fire season, we all better start to get ready, early on.

Firefighters can prepare by contacting their state or in state federal wildland agency. Also, courses are offered at many state fire training academies. The National Fire Aca-demy offers a complete course in wildland/ urban interface firefighting for structural firefighters. Also, fire departments can prepare by purchasing and using the correct wildland personal protective equipment and firefighting equipment.

The 2000 Wildfire Season

Largest numbers of acres burned

Idaho 1,282,918
Montana 950,120
Nevada 635,742
New Mexico 519,171
Oregon 477,678

Source: NIFC External Affairs Office

Wildland Firefighter Line-Of-Duty Deaths*

A total of 21 U.S. firefighters - 12 career members and nine volunteers - died in the line of duty this year during wildland fire operations:

11 Struck by/trauma
5 Thermal burns
2 Stress/overexertion
2 Electrocution by lightning
1 Unknown illness

* From Jan. 1 through Nov. 10, 2000.


28,462 people were fighting fire
667 crews were assigned
1,249 engines
226 helicopters
42 airtankers
84 large fires burning (100 acres or more)
1,642,579 acres on fire in 16 states

Source: NIFC External Affairs Office

Photo by Robert M. Winston
On the busiest day of the wildfire season, more than 1.6 million acres were burning at the same time in 16 states.

Fuel Moisture Content

Fuel moisture content is defined as the amount of water in a fuel, and is expressed as a percent of dry weight of that fuel. Fuel moisture is determined by weighing a small sample of the fuel, then drying it in an oven, then weighing it again.