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 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.
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 is developing a new website, HazExplorer, to provide aggregated information about existing local, state, and regional wildfire hazard assessments. The website is expected to be available in summer 2020 and will be linked here when it is published.
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?
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.
What time period do the data reflect?
Vegetative fuels and landscape conditions are from the LANDFIRE 2014 release and reflect conditions from 2014. Large fires, fuel treatments, or disturbances that have occurred since 2014 are not reflected in the data.
Data about the relative density of homes is derived from the most recent release of LandScan USATM (2017) and the U.S. Census Bureau (2018).
Data about vulnerable populations are from the most recent five-year rolling survey period of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2014-2018).
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 second release is scheduled for summer 2020. It will include additional data and enhancements to the interactive web pages.
Updates and releases after summer 2020 are dependent on funding and are not yet confirmed.
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.