The Evolution of Wildland Firefighting

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Dense, lush forests, fields, and pastures offer an enchanting gateway into the natural world, but dry, hot summers and irresponsible campers can turn that beautiful scenery into fuel. Wildland firefighters keep these conflagrations under control, ensuring safety and continued growth for our nation’s wilderness.

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We have come a long way since the disastrous events of the 1871 Peshtigo fire and the 1910 Great Fire of Idaho. 

This graphic outlines the history, present state, and future of wildland firefighting, offering insight into the continued advancement of our efforts to address this naturally evolving yet undesirable occurrence.

The History of Wildland Firefighting

As our understanding of wildland fires continues to grow, so does our approach to firefighting strategy. Listed below are some of the most notable operations, development, and policy- related changes that have been established over the past century.

  • 1886 – The first official wildland firefighters were employed: Yellowstone National Park 
  • 1908 – A federal policy was created to allow any amount of necessary Forest Service spending when it came to firefighting: Forest Fires Emergency Act 
  • 1916 – The first weather forecasts, specific to wildland fires, were reported on: U.S. Weather Bureau (Department of Agriculture) 
  • 1922 – Controlled fires were intentionally set as experiments: U.S. Forest Service Appalachian Forest Experiment Station 
  • 1924 – The first fire warning service was established: U.S. Forest Service Appalachian Forest Experiment Station & local Weather Bureau 
  • 1947 – Aerial bombing (fire retardant dropped from airplanes) experiment results were first published: The Northern Rocky Mountain Station & Army Air Force 
  • 1957 – Ten Standard Fire Orders (SFO) were implemented as safety guidelines and recommendations to reduce firefighter fatalities: U.S. Forest Service 
  • 1971 – Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies (FIRESCOPE) was established to enhance strategy and efficiency in terms of service management, coordination, and technology 
  • 1993 – New standards for firefighting clothing and equipment were established: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

The Current State of Wildland Firefighting

Today, wildland fires are burning at higher levels of intensity, are affecting larger areas of land, are burning for longer periods of time, and are occurring more frequently in wildland urban interface (WUI). Particular efforts are currently underway to address the evolving nature of wildland fires.

Education Programs: Long-term and large-scale education programs (e.g. the Smokey Bear fire prevention program) have become quite prevalent due to their effectiveness. The core areas of study for wildland fire-related programs include:

  • Fire ecology
  • The natural role of fire 
  • The interrelationships of fire and healthy ecosystems 
  • Fuel dynamics and fire behavior 
  • The fire environment

Highly Trained Firefighters:

  • The increased number of certificate and degree programs in this field make the job opportunities scarce and highly competitive. However, this is in our country’s best interest, as we now have thoroughly educated, well-prepared individuals attacking these unpredictable travesties. 
  • The process for entering the field of wildland firefighting includes:
    • Early Training – Physical fitness tests and specific educationrequirements that are met before an individual can apply for a job in the field.
    • Qualification – A handful of exams that test spatial awareness,mechanical reasoning, logic, and physical ability are taken to qualify for an available position.
    • Fire Academy Training – This is required once an individual is selected for an available position. Specific certification may be required to specialize in wildland firefighting.
    • Career Advancement – Additional training and education is required in order to move up in the field.

Advanced Technology, Equipment, and Procedures:

  • Development and utilization of fire resistant clothing, equipment, and shelters
  • Enhanced processes for delivery of water and retardant chemicals
  • Applied infra-red technologies
  • Development and utilization of high-tech management software
    • Including tools for fire behavior modeling, geographic informationsystems, satellite imagery, up-to-date forecasts, resource ordering systems, and cost tracking


The future of wildland firefighting will continue to introduce new education, training, and technology advances that will address the latest concerns and needs foreseen by wildland firefighting experts.

  • Concerns for the Future of Wildland Firefighting:
    • Fires will continue to increase in intensity and severity
    • Fuel complexes and vegetation will continuously change
    • Climate will continue to change
  • Needs for Advancement of Wildland Firefighting:
    • Landscape restoration and maintenance
    • Community development that can better withstand fires in terms of life andproperty preservation
    • Natural resource sustainment
    • Enhanced management activities when it comes to full-range wildfire responses

For the latest news about wildland firefighting updates and advancements, check out National Fire Fighter |

Resources: timeline/operational-inventions-and-developments.cfm

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