Frequently Asked Questions
What is Wildfire Risk to Communities?
Wildfire Risk to Communities is a free, easy-to-use website with interactive maps, charts, and data to help communities in the United States understand, explore, and reduce wildfire risk. Maps and data are available at the community, county, and state levels. Wildfire Risk to Communities is a project of the USDA Forest Service, under the direction of Congress in the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 1625, Section 210).
This is the first time that wildfire risk to communities has been mapped nationwide. Wildfire Risk to Communities uses nationally consistent data and risk metrics grounded in the best available science. In addition to providing information about community wildfire risk, the website includes resources and solutions to help manage, mitigate, and reduce risk.
Who is this for?
Wildfire Risk to Communities is designed for municipal, county, and state elected officials; land use planners; fire managers; and fire collaboratives. It may also be useful for other departments in state, county, and municipal governments, as well as neighborhood associations. While not designed for individual homeowners, the website may offer helpful and informative resources for this audience.
What can I do with these data?
The purpose of Wildfire Risk to Communities is to help communities understand, explore, and reduce wildfire risk. It provides information about communities’ relative wildfire risk profile, the nature and effects of wildfire risk, and actions communities can take. For example, information can be used to:
- Prioritize mitigation efforts among communities in a state or county with the greatest wildfire risk.
- Identify communities where localized wildfire hazard mitigation and planning efforts are most needed.
- Find resources, partners, and solutions to help manage, mitigate, and reduce risk.
What tribal information is included?
Data for tribal areas can be found in the Explore section of Wildfire Risk to Communities. Tribal areas include tribal and trust lands, as derived from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian Areas dataset.
For Wildfire Risk to Communities, Indigenous areas that cross state boundaries are divided by state and listed separately for each state they overlap. This enables users to view their area of interest alongside state-specific wildfire risk maps and to view demographic data that are segmented in this way by the Census. For example, Navajo Nation will be available as:
- Navajo Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land (AZ portion)
- Navajo Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land (NM portion)
- Navajo Nation Reservation and Off-Reservation Trust Land (UT portion)
What are the limitations of these data?
As a national-scale project with a focus on communities, Wildfire Risk to Communities has limitations. The data are not locally calibrated and are not fine scale—they are best for considering risk as aggregated across a community and are not designed for considering risk at the local, neighborhood, or individual home scale. Wildfire Risk to Communities is best used for comparing among communities, rather than within communities.
The project is focused on risk to communities with an emphasis on homes (which are derived from population data). It does not consider wildfire impacts to other important assets such as watersheds, landscape health, or infrastructure. The data are not predictive and do not reflect current fire danger conditions or future climate projections. Wildfire Risk to Communities is intended to be a starting point to help answer questions about community risk.
How is this different from my regional-, state- or community-level wildfire risk assessment?
Wildfire Risk to Communities is not intended to replace state, regional, or local risk assessments. Assessments generated at the state, regional, or local level provide useful and important information, likely with more localized data. Wildfire Risk to Communities only focuses on one value (houses), while other risk assessments may include other values (e.g., watersheds, wildlife, forest resilience). Since Wildfire Risk to Communities is based on nationally consistent data, it can be a helpful tool to compare your wildfire risk with other communities, counties, or states.
See what other wildfire hazard assessments are available in your area in the Wildfire Hazard Explorer.
Wildfire Risk to Communities is not a replacement for parcel-level or home assessments, which are necessary to understand how individual structures and properties are susceptible to wildfire. Wildfire Risk to Communities uses a generalized concept of susceptibility for all homes and does not account for homes where risk may have been mitigated. An individual home’s survivability is driven primarily by local conditions (known as the “Home Ignition Zone”), including the construction materials and the vegetation in the immediate area. The only way to truly assess home susceptibility is through individual home assessments, which are well beyond the scope of a national-scale project like Wildfire Risk to Communities.
What if this assessment differs from another assessment?
Different wildfire risk assessments will show varied results, depending on the questions the assessments were designed to answer. For example, risk assessments may focus on landscape health or on difficulty of wildfire response. Wildfire Risk to Communities focuses on the risk to communities—in other words, homes and other buildings. As a national project, it is likely different in scale and scope from state or local assessments. It is not locally calibrated or fine scale.
How can I find out if there is a local or regional assessment for my area?
The National Association of State Foresters recently launched the Wildfire Hazard Explorer, which provides a searchable map with links and aggregated information about existing local, state, and regional wildfire hazard assessments.
Will insurance companies use this information?
Wildfire Risk to Communities is not specifically designed for insurance companies. Many insurance companies conduct their own wildfire risk assessments. However, Wildfire Risk to Communities data are publicly available.
How were these data developed?
Read detailed information in our Methods section. Wildfire Risk to Communities is built from nationally consistent data, including:
- Vegetation and fire-behavior fuel models from the interagency LANDFIRE program
- Topographic data from the United States Geological Survey
- Historical weather patterns from the National Weather Service
- Long-term simulations of large wildfire behavior from the USDA Forest Service
- Community data from U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Energy
Wildfire Risk to Communities is based on techniques developed by the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory of the Rocky Mountain Research Station. The techniques are documented in A Wildfire Risk Assessment Framework for Land and Resource Management (Scott et al. 2013, RMRS-GTR-315).
The USDA Forest Service developed the Wildfire Risk to Communities data in partnership with Pyrologix, which has more than two decades of experience in wildland fire science research, development, and application.
The USDA Forest Service developed the interactive website in partnership with Headwaters Economics—an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research group with expertise in developing custom data tools and in wildfire risk reduction at the community level.
How are the low, medium, high, and very high risk categories determined?
When you first view your community’s page in the Explore section, you will see a statement identifying your community as having low, medium, high, or very high risk. These categories are determined by the Risk to Homes national percentile rank of your selected community, county, tribal area, or state. Low is less than 40th percentile; Medium is 40th-70th percentile; High is 70th – 90th percentile; Very High is equal to or greater than 90th percentile. See more on the Methods page.
Why do the colors on the map appear different than my location’s percentile rank?
In some places, the color on the map signals a slightly different risk level than the percentile rank shown in the summary statement and chart. This is because the map displays values for every cell across a grid (pixels), while the summary statement and chart show the rank of the location’s mean value compared to all other U.S. locations.
How should I cite these data?
If you are using statistics, data, or images from the web pages at wildfirerisk.org, please use the following citation:
Wildfire Risk to Communities. https://wildfirerisk.org [Date Accessed]
If you are using downloaded data, such as the raster GIS or tabular data, please use the following citations:
Data for all lands: Scott, Joe H.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Moran, Christopher; Dillon, Gregory K.; Short, Karen C.; Vogler, Kevin C. 2020. Wildfire Risk to Communities: Spatial datasets of landscape-wide wildfire risk components for the United States. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive. https://doi.org/10.2737/RDS-2020-0016
Data for populated areas: Scott, Joe H.; Brough, April M.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Dillon, Gregory K.; Moran, Christopher. 2020. Wildfire Risk to Communities: Spatial datasets of wildfire risk for populated areas in the United States. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive. https://doi.org/10.2737/RDS-2020-0060
What time period do the data reflect?
Wildfire Risk to Communities is built from a variety of data, each with different vintages as shown in the table below. Wildfires and other major disturbances since 2014 are not reflected in the data.
|Land cover and vegetation canopy characteristics||LANDFIRE 2014 (version 1.4.0), 40 Scott and Burgan Fire Behavior Fuel Models and Canopy Fuel datasets.||End of 2014|
|Weather: temperature and precipitation||Abatzoglou, John T. 2011. Development of gridded surface meteorological data for ecological applications and modeling. International Journal of Climatology 33: 121-131.||1979-2012|
|Weather: wind speed and direction||Remote Automated Weather Station records.||Variable, 1985-2014|
|Fire occurrence||Short, Karen C. 2017. Spatial wildfire occurrence data for the United States, 1992-2015 [FPA_FOD_20170508]. 4th Edition. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.||1992-2015|
|Wildfire hazard||Short, Karen C.; Finney, Mark A.; Vogler, Kevin C.; Scott, Joe H.; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Grenfell, Isaac C. 2020. Spatial datasets of probabilistic wildfire risk components for the United States (270m). 2nd Edition. Fort Collins, CO: Forest Service Research Data Archive.||End of 2014|
|Housing unit and population density||U.S. Census Bureau. 2019. 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates. Released Dec 19, 2019.||2014-2018|
|U.S. Census Bureau. 2018. Population and Housing Unit Estimates Datasets: Vintage 2018. July 1, 2018.||2018|
|Microsoft. 2018. US Building Footprints, version 1.1. Released July 13, 2018.||2018|
|Rose, Amy N.; McKee, Jacob J.; Urban, Marie L.; Bright, Eddie A. 2019. LandScan 2018. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN.||2018|
|Vulnerable populations||U.S. Census Bureau. 2020. 2016-2020 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates. Released Mar 17, 2022.||2016-2020|
|Community boundaries||US Census Bureau Places, 2020.||2020|
Can I customize these data with local information?
Yes. The data are available for download as GIS and tabular files. You can combine them with localized information to conduct your own comparisons and analyses.
What if I find an error?
Mistakes happen! The process of modeling and mapping wildfire risk for the nation is complicated. In a national effort, what appears to be a mistake may also be an artifact of using national datasets rather than locally calibrated, locally derived information. All data will be available for download as GIS and tabular files so you can customize and combine them with local data.
When will these data be updated?
A full update of wildfire risk data is planned for late 2023.
Can you help troubleshoot technical difficulties?
The site is best viewed in modern web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported.
The maps and data in the Explore section require a decent internet connection. You may experience performance issues if you have low bandwidth.