Fire Management

The principles and actions to control, extinguish, use, prevent, or influence fire for the protection or enhancement of resources as it pertains to wildlands.

Related resource topics for county planning include the following:


Map of Data

Download mxd

The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

The GeoMAC data is live data about current large fires. In the map these layers have the names Large Fire Points, Fire Perimeters, Modis Thermal Satellite, and Inactive Fire Perimeters.

Resource Information

Wildfire is the most prevalent natural disturbance in the State of Utah, and it affects biotic communities statewide. It is an integral component of our forest, range, and desert lands and affects thousands of acres on an annual basis. Below is a compilation of Utah wildland fire statistics for the last 5 years (see table below) [1].  

YearTotal Number of Fires% of Fires on Federal Lands% of Fires on State or Private LandsTotal Acres Burned% of Acres Burned on Federal Lands% of Acres Burned on State or Private Lands

Response to fire incidents relies on proper oversight, guidance, and partnership among a variety of trained professional organizations. Establishing a fire management system is a critical step in protecting communities both urban and rural. Fire management refers to the principles and actions to control, extinguish, use, or influence fire for the protection or enhancement of resources as it pertains to wildlands. It involves a multiple-objective approach strategy including ecosystem restoration, community preparedness, and wildfire response [2]. Wildfires do not adhere to political boundaries, and cooperation among different agencies and jurisdictions covering federal, state, county, municipal, and rural/ volunteer fire departments is essential for successful fire management response. In Utah, the state legislature tasked the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands to devise a comprehensive statewide wildland fire prevention, preparedness, and suppression policy, which is now known as SB-56 [3]. Under this plan, a master cooperative wildland fire management and Stafford Act response agreement is signed each year between numerous federal land management agencies and the State of Utah for cooperation during wildland fire incidents that occur throughout the state [4].

Best Management Practices

This section outlines the many aspects regarding fire management including, fire resource descriptions, impact considerations, best management practices (BMPs), economic considerations, supporting fire data useful for county services, and relevant fire agency contact information.

Firefighting Resources
Response to a wildland fire can involve a basic monitoring status placed on a remote wilderness fire, or involve multiple agencies overseen by an incident-management team encompassing hundreds of firefighters to manage. A basic overview of how a wildland fire is fought in the state can be found here.

When a fire is reported in the MAG area, it is forwarded to the Northern Utah Interagency Fire Center (NUIFC). This multi-agency organization is tasked with tracking wildland firefighting resources throughout northern Utah and coordinating the response of resources to wildland fire incidents.

Numerous personnel are trained to respond to wildfires throughout Utah and the services they provide are dependent upon the role of their organization as assigned during an incident. At a basic level, firefighting resources can be grouped into two broad categories: ground resources and air resources. Often times both types of resources are dispatched to a fire. Below is a brief outline of the available resources for each category.

Ground Resources: Federal and State
There are two main firefighting groups that fall within this category; they include handcrews and engines. Handcrews are specifically trained to fight wildfires. They often consist of 18–20 individuals who are responsible for constructing firelines. Hand crews use tools such as scrapes, pulaskis, chainsaws, and shovels to contain and stop fire. They are also well trained to execute backfire operations to prevent the spread of fire. Many supervisors of handcrews are qualified to be incident commanders and be in charge of protecting property and infrastructure (e.g., homes and buildings) and for implementing overall plans to extinguish fire.

Wildland engines are specially equipped fire engines, often with all-terrain capabilities, to transport water to firelines. Engine crews consist of 3–5 individuals that use hoses, pumps to provide water support to extinguish fires. They can also be used to construct firelines. Engine resources are categorized by size and water capacity, ranging from type 6 (which hold 150–400 gallons) to type 3 (which hold 500+ gallons).

Both handcrews and engine crews are sponsored by federal land management agencies such as the US Forest Service, US Bureau of Land Management, US National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. Although crews are attached to particular national forests, wildlife refuges, etc., almost all are considered national resources and may be dispatched to fires across the United States. For example, federal firefighters based outside of Utah can be sent to fight fires in Utah.

In addition to having access to federal crews, the State of Utah trains and provides both handcrews and engine crews that can be used both in Utah and also dispatched nationally through a cooperative agreement with other agencies. The Lone Peak Conservation Center, located in Draper, hosts two “hotshot” (or elite) handcrews, two type II handcrews, as well as one type 3 engine.

Assisting with fire prevention and suppression are county fire wardens who work for the Utah Department of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands.

Links to local firefighting organizations:




Ground Resources: County, Municipal, and Rural
While primarily responsible for structure and accident response, city and town fire departments also provide wildland training and are often the first responders to fires in the urban-interface within incorporated municipalities. These resources are often assigned to structure protection operations, or utilize hose/water capabilities to create wetlines to keep fire from spreading into neighborhoods. In rural, unincorporated areas, volunteer fire departments (VFDs) are often the first on the scene to local wildfires and have varying levels of wildland fire training depending on the outfit.

Air Resources
Often assigned to scout for new fires following lightning events, tracking active fire perimeters, or assisting ground resources with water or fire retardant drops, air resources include airplanes and helicopters. Airplanes range from single-engine air tankers that deliver small fire-retardant loads to large retardant bombers. In remote, inaccessible terrain, smokejumpers can be delivered via air to put combat fires. Helicopters are most often used to ferry supplies to crews and to deliver water drops using specially designed buckets. Helitack crews are trained to be transported to fires by helicopter, as well as to staff helicopter stations on larger fire incidents.

Hazard and Risk Reduction


  • Public education, outreach, informing the public of how to be firewise.
  • Connecting professionals (e.g., country fire wardens and state foresters) with landowners who need assistance in obtaining grants and other resources for implementing defensible space around their properties.
  • The creation of defensible space around homes, outbuildings, campgrounds.
  • Fuel load reduction projects through thinning, harvesting, and other mechanical means.
  • Utilizing prescribed fire under the appropriate conditions to remove hazardous fuels.
  • Implement efforts to maintain or create healthy landscapes and ecosystems focused on native vegetation.
  • Have comprehensive wildland fire emergency response plans and share with the community.
  • Identify high-wildland fire hazard zones per county.
  • Adoption of wildland-urban interface (WUI) building ordinances to reduce fire risk.
  • Proactive outreach to citizens occupying WUI on preparing for wildfire event
  • Include municipal and volunteer fire departments in wildland fire training for quicker and additional fire response.
  • Utilize smoking and fire bans when fire danger conditions become hazardous.
  • Educate and inform public when fire danger rises throughout a fire season.

Suppression and control

  • Firefighter training
  • Adequate equipment and resources
  • Utilization of the incident command system
  • Pre-identified fire response staging areas and camp areas
  • Interagency and governmental cooperation and communication
  • Government and leader support
  • Proper emergency and evacuation plans
  • Flexibility to match the best firefighting strategies and tactics to a fire situation
  • Implementing proper airspace restrictions to safely execute aerial firefighting response
  • Public outreach on closing roads, trails to better assist and safeguard firefighting personnel

Post-fire Actions

  • Assess damage to resources e.g. streams, homes, campgrounds, trails
  • Habitat and watershed damage assessment and protection
  • Erosion control measures (e.g., native seeding, water bars)
  • Minimize exposure to invasive species
  • Salvage logging operations if applicable

A fire management plan should consider:

  • Prevention and hazard/risk reduction efforts
  • Firefighting preparedness
  • Incident command
  • Risk assessment
  • Evacuation plans
  • Funding strategies

Economic Considerations

Fire suppression is expensive to taxpayers. In the past 30 years money spent by federal agencies nationwide on firefighting has increased from $2.5 million in 1985 to well over $2 billion in 2015 [5]. With climate change and expected increase in temperatures and drought periods, fires suppression costs are projected to rise. In Utah, fire suppression costs averaged $33.4 million per year during the 10-year period of 2003–2012 [6]. One area of major concern is the wildland-urban interface. As development in this interface continues, firefighting costs will increase [4]. Below is an outline of costs related to wildfires. Also, true wildfire suppression costs in the western United States can be found in this report provided by the US Bureau of Land Management.

Two datasets can be used to identify areas of the county where fires are more likely to occur and more likely to have a greater impacts: the Fire Risk data and the Fire Regime Group data. Use this fire regime data dictionary to help you understand the fire regime groups.

The Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal is an online tool being developed by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands. This tool contains a public viewer and a professional viewer, and both are free to use. This application is valuable for determining wildland fire risk and potential impacts of fires around the state. Another great information resource is the attached linked map and pdf  which shows and lists Utah’s communities at risk of wildland fires.

Wildfires come with serious costs; the cost of fire suppression is only a fraction of the true, total costs associated with a wildfire event.  Some of the costs associated with wildfire suppression include the direct costs (resources and structures burned), rehabilitation costs (post-fire floods and land restoration), indirect costs (lost sales and county taxes), and additional costs (loss of life and damage to public health). A synthesis of case studies reveal a range of total wildfire costs anywhere from 2 to 30 times greater than the reported suppression costs [7]. Factors involving costs include:


  • Public firewise outreach news, radio, television advertisement
  • Funds to assist landowners with defensible space projects
  • WUI-fuel breaks
  • Training for county and municipal fire departments
  • Municipal department brush/wildland capable engines
  • Wildland firefighting equipment caches

Suppression response

  • Firefighting resources and personnel
    • Aviation
    • Fire crews
    • Engines
    • Overhead
    • Camp crews (catering, supplies, shower services, fuel services)
  • Operation of incident command posts (e.g., schools, county fairgrounds)
  • Local first responders (county and municipal fire departments)
  • Sheriff and police resources for evacuations, traffic control, road closure enforcement
  • Disruption to local services
  • Loss of revenue due to closed recreation areas on businesses and local tax base
  • Loss of timber resources
  • Damage to utility lines
  • Aid to evacuated citizens


  • Land rehabilitation costs
  • Watershed rehabilitation costs
  • Trails and facility repairs
  • Damages to homes, buildings, property, insurance costs

Impact Considerations

Wildfires can have a major impact on life, property, and natural resources. In most instances, wildland fires serve beneficial ecosystem services and are part of the natural cycle of healthy landscapes. Prescribed fire has been an effective tool used by natural resource managers to offset the ecological unbalance following past fire suppression policies enacted during the early 20th century [8]. The benefits derived from fire can be overshadowed when life and property are in close proximity to a fire. Below is an outline of some of the broad impacts of fire from a beneficial and disadvantageous standpoint.


  • Fuel reduction
  • Periodic fire can create conditions leaving areas less prone to large destructive future fires
  • Habitat improvement
  • Removes sick, diseased, and unhealthy trees
  • Removes invasive plants
  • Soil nutrient recycling
  • Creates forest openings for the next generation of trees or rangeland plants
  • Stimulates new growth
  • Maintains ecological balance
  • Promotes biological diversity

Negative consequences

  • Potential loss of life
  • Potential loss of property
  • Smoke and air quality issues
    • Affects visibility
    • Health issues
    • Disrupt local or regional air traffic
  • Suppression costs
  • Erosion
  • Degrade water quality
  • Force recreational closing of trails, campsites
  • Creates an avenue for invasive species to spread
  • Loss of timber lands

Further Impact Considerations

Fire impacts can be viewed beyond an overall positive or negative perspective, but from a geographical area context as well. For example, this can be expressed between fires in wildland urban interface areas versus fires in rural areas. Each has their own unique considerations as listed below.

Wildland Urban Interface

  • High density of structures both residences and outbuildings
  • Higher density of utilities that could be impacted
  • More complex evacuations procedures
  • Concentrated air quality issues and effects

The Wildland-Urban Interface data can be used to identify areas of the county with more complex fire management issues because of the wildland-urban interface.

Rural Areas:

  • Access and time for first responders to arrive
  • Grazing land impacts
    • Disruption of sheep, cattle, and other livestock operations
    • Loss of valuable grazing lands

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
Wildfire Behavior Modeling Program2013UnknownUnited States Forest Service Fire Lab
Communities at Risk list

Use to determine the risk of a community to wildland fire2013UnknownUtah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands
Fire History of Utah

Shows all past burn locations (points) and burn areas (polygons) for the entire stateUnknownUnknownUtah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands
GeoMAC Wildland Fire Support
Map viewer displaying current and historic firesLive DataUnknownUSGS Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination
LANDFIRE Fire Regime Groups, us_130frg
Data name; “us_130frg” Use to identify natural fire return intervals for a landscape2012Delivered as 30 meter pixels but should not be used as individual pixel or as small groups of pixelsWildland Fire Science, Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey LANDFIRE website
Utah Wildfire Risk Index
An index with greater risk areas shown in darker red colorsUnknownUnknownUtah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands
Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal
An online tool with many data layers for risk and impact assessments2016UnknownUtah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands
Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)
Showing wildland-urban interface areasUnknownUnknownUSGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Wildland Urban Interface Data (WUI)
Basic Wildland Urban Interface development map2016Unknown Headwaters Economic Organization


  1. National Interagency Fire Center. 2016. National Report of Wildland Fires and Acres Burned by State. Accessed January 8, 2016.
  2. US Forest Service. 2016. Wildland Fire Touches Every Part of the Nation. Managing Wildland Fires. Accessed February 6, 2016.
  3. Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, & State Lands. 2015. Utah Wildland Fire Policy. Accessed: 2/22/16.
  4. Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, & State Lands. 2013. Master Cooperative Wildland Fire Management and Stafford Act Response Agreement.
  5. National Interagency Fire Center. 2015. Federal Firefighting Costs (Suppression Only). Accessed January 8, 2016.
  6. University of Utah, Bureau of Economic and Business Research. 2014. An Analysis of a Transfer of Federal Lands to the State of Utah. A report prepared for the Utah Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office. November.
  7. Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. 2010. The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western US.
  8. National Interagency Fire Center. 2001. Review and Update of the 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy, National Park Service, US Forest Service.