You are here
Diverse ecosystems comprise the Northeast Region. From prairie to pine, hardwoods to boreal forests, and coastal wetlands to mountains, the region displays the full range of fire regimes. Some of the most critically endangered ecosystems include grasslands, savannas, and pine barrens. The vast majority of land is in private ownership. Land uses and ownership patterns are complex, with many small holdings and a diverse range of owner objectives. Public lands are often isolated among other land uses, including private and industrial forests and agricultural lands. Many public lands are managed for multiple uses.
The Northeast can be described in risk management terms as having a large number of small, mostly human-caused wildfires with a low occurrence of large wildfires—but fires present a high risk to life and property when they do occur. The larger fires tend to occur in areas containing more contiguous and undeveloped forested tracts of land. Many wildland fires can be fast-moving, but they are often contained within a single day. Most wildfires are human-caused; accidental fires and arson are the primary causes of fires in the region. During the five-year period from 2008 through 2012, the Northeast averaged 21,083 reported wildfires per year, which burned an average of 135,591 acres each year (National Interagency Coordination Center 2013).
Natural events increase the risk of wildfire. Wind, ice, disease, and insects can create large areas of downed timber and increased fuels, leading to exacerbated wildfire conditions. All ecosystems can experience short- and long-term wildfire hazards if these event fuels remain in place. Removal of event fuels before a wildfire is crucial as population continues to grow in forested areas, with homes and infrastructure near wildland fuels. These event fuels may also represent an economic opportunity to supply forest product needs, ranging from biomass to higher-valued products.
Wildland fire management responsibilities are characterized by a patchwork of jurisdictions and ownership, and often more than one agency may be involved in managing wildland fire incidents. Firefighter and public safety is of utmost concern at every level. Wildland fire management is the result of collaboration, partnerships, and cooperation among states (interstate forest fire compacts), federal fire management agencies (e.g., U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), tribal governments, and many local fire departments. Federal agencies are responsible for fire management activities on federal lands; state and local fire protection agencies are responsible for protection of non-federal lands. As landowners, federal agencies have flexibility to address land management considerations in their fire management activities. However, state and local statutes and regulations generally mandate suppression of all wildfires. Maintaining, improving the efficiency and effectiveness, or, in some cases, increasing the capacity of local fire departments to respond to wildfires is vital to augment state, federal, and tribal response needs. Most of the fire community is also vital to all-hazard response in the Northeast. Effective integration of wildfire response training into all-hazard response training is critical to maintain local response capability in the Northeast.
A high percentage of wildfires in the region involve homes and infrastructure. With the heavy population and large proportion of landscape in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) intermix, even small wildfires threaten structures, increasing the risk and complexity for firefighters. A proactive, collaborative approach to identifying risks in the WUI—combined with developing Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs), reducing hazardous fuels, treating event fuels, and educating the public in the context of managing fuels across a multi-jurisdictional, fragmented landscape—will prepare communities for wildfire. Wildland fire managers in the Northeast believe that focusing on preventing unwanted fires and increasing homeowner-shared responsibility will reduce firefighter risk and decrease the need for firefighting responses.