Since the 1960s, the 'let it burn' approach to wildfire has gained wider and wider acceptance. But as fires increasingly come up against the West's phenomenal population growth – and as some scientists warn that a century of aggressive fire fighting has caused an explosive buildup of trees and brush – we're spending billions fighting 'catastrophic' forest fires every year.

2015 saw a record-breaking fire season in the U.S. with over 10 million acres burned. Studies also show that warmer temperatures appear to be increasing the duration and intensity of the wildfire season in the western United States. Once again, climate change is a major reason.

Four critical factors—earlier snowmelt, higher summer temperatures, longer fire season, and expanded vulnerable areas of high-elevation forests—are combining to produce the observed increase in wildfire activity.

Studies have shown that the average area burned by wildfires in the West will roughly double by the end of the century. Other general environmental concerns include the fate of threatened and endangered species, many of which are isolated in small islands of old-growth forest habitat. Bigger fires could also accelerate weed invasions, which are already a big threat in the West. Cheatgrass, an invasive exotic species that thrives in burned areas and speeds up the fire cycle by providing more fuel for future fires, would almost certainly gain ground in a more fiery West.

Fire Funding Fix

The 2018 Omnibus Bill finally addressed an ongoing issue in the federal agencies funded firefighting operations. Starting in 2020, funding for wildfires will be stabilized without further eroding the U.S. Forest Service and other agency budgets. More than $20 billion will be set aside over 10 years to allow the Forest Service and other federal agencies to end a practice of raiding non-fire-related accounts (known as fire-borrowing) to pay for wildfire costs, which approached $3 billion last year alone. For years, this practice has resulted in gravely underfunded programs throughout the Forest Service.


Click on the map below to enter an interactive page concerning the current and on-going fires.

Fire by state
Colorado - El Paso County - Waldo Canyon Fire
State: Colorado
Description: The Waldo Canyon Fire started just northwest of Colorado Springs on June 23, 2012. By the time it was contained on July 10, 2012, it had left two people dead, destroyed 346 homes and burned more than 18,000 acres in the Pike National Forest and in Colorado Springs... read more
Colorado - Glenwood Springs - Coal Seam Fire
State: Colorado
Region: Glenwood Springs
Description: On June 8, 2002, a decades old fire that had been burning in an underground mine ignited vegetation on the surface, starting the Coal Seam Fire in and around Glenwood Springs, Colorado. There are a few coal seams in the area that have underground fires still burning today... read more
Colorado - Hunter Creek Prescribed Burn
State: Colorado
Region: Aspen Valley
Description: EcoFlight has been working with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), Wilderness Workshop, Pitkin County, City of Aspen, and the U.S. Forest Service on the Hunter Creek Smuggler Mountain Cooperative Plan on a prescribed burn, as part of the forest restoration project in the Hunter Creek Valley, adjacent to the City of Aspen and Pitkin County open space.
Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem - Fire
State: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
Description: Wildfires are naturally occurring agents of disturbance in the region's forests. But hotter and drier conditions and longer fire seasons are already expanding the natural force of wildfire in Greater Yellowstone. In general, wildfires are larger, more numerous, and more destructive than they used to be... read more
Montana - The Great Burn Fire
State: Montana
Region: Bitterroot Mountains
Description: Believed to be the largest fire in recorded U.S. history, the Great Fire of 1910 burned about three million acres (approx. the size of Connecticut) in northeast Washington, northern Idaho (the panhandle), and western Montana. Despite being the largest, it is not the deadliest wildfire on record... read more