Fire Timeline—Text Version
Policy & Law
Peter Stuyvesant Governor
Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam (New York City) adopted building codes and established Fire Wardens to protect the settlement. This was the first fire organization in America.
RELATED ITEMS: Brief History of the Fire Service
New York Passes Statute
New York passed statute that empowered anyone in certain counties to "require and command all or any of the neighboring and adjacent inhabitants to aid and assist him" in the suppression of a fire.
Yellowstone National Park Established
Superintendent Nathaniel P. Langford wrote in his annual report for that year "It is especially recommended that a law be passed, punishing, by fine and imprisonment, all persons who leave any fire they may have made, for convenience or otherwise, unextinguished. Nearly all extensive conflagrations of timber in the mountains may be directly traced to negligence in extinguishing campfires. . . . Nothing less than a stringent law punishing negligence and carelessness, can save the extensive pine timber fields of the park from destruction."
Wildland Fire Control Program Initiated
Wildland Fire Control Program initiated in the Adirondacks Reserve, New York.
House Committee Declaration
House Committee dealing with Yellowstone National Park declared that "the most important duty of the superintendent and assistants in the Park is to protect the forest from fire and ax."
In an attempt to reduce wildfires, Captain Boutelle ordered that camping in Yellowstone be allowed only in designated areas. This led to the system of designated campgrounds now common on public lands.
REFERENCE ITEMS: How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks, H. Duane Hampton, Indiana University Press, 1971
Secretary of the Interior requests military assistance to administer and protect the new California parks, Yosemite, Sequoia and General Grant National Parks. Unlike Yellowstone, no permanent garrison was built and the military only occupied the parks during the summer months for patrols, fire fighting and protection activities. The military remained until 1914.
MARCH 3, 1891
Forest Reserve Act
Forest Reserve Act (26 Stat. 1095) enacted. Sec. 24. provided "The President of the United States may, from time to time, set apart and reserve, in any State or Territory having public land bearing forests, in any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations, and the President shall, by public proclamation, declare the establishment of such reservations and the limits thereof."
MARCH 30, 1891
Federal Forest Preserve
The first Federal Forest Preserve, the precursor of national forests, was established to the east and south of Yellowstone. It and future preserves were administered by the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior.
37 Million Acres
Over 37 million acres were now protected as Forest Preserves and administered by the General Land Office. Gifford Pinchot was made Chief of the Division of Forestry under the Department of Agriculture.
Gifford Pinchot Named Chief Forester
U. S. Forest Service was established when the federal forest reserves were transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Gifford Pinchot was named Chief Forester. Field managers were given The Use Book that described their three main duties as "to protect the reserves against fire, to assist the people in their use and to see that they are properly used."
RELATED ITEMS: The Use of the National Forest Reserves 1905 Use Book
MAY 23, 1908
Forest Fires Emergency Act
P.L. 60-136, Ch. 192, 35 Stat. 260 Was the first federal fire policy enacted which authorized any necessary Forest Service spending on firefighting.
JULY 1, 1908
National Forests Created
President Theodore Roosevelt created 21 National Forest by Executive Order.
Forest Protection Bulletin
Forest Service Chief Henry Graves issued bulletin Protection of Forests from Fire that declared "The first measure necessary for the successful practice of forestry is protection from forest fires.
Using Fire To Reduce Hazardous Fuels
Forest administrator in Florida National Forest, I.F. Eldridge, broke with convention by using fire to reduce hazardous fuels in longleaf pine stands.
RELATED ITEMS: A History of Forestry Research in the Southern United States
MARCH 1, 1911
The Weeks Act
The Weeks Act (36 Stat. 962; 16 U.S.C. 519) passed by Congress, allowing the USFS to cooperate with states in fire protection, creating the first interagency wildland fire fighting effort. SEC. 2. That the sum of two hundred thousand dollars is hereby appropriated and made available until expended, out of any moneys in the National Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to enable the Secretary of Agriculture to cooperate with any State or group of States, when requested to do so, in the protection from fire of the forested watersheds of navigable streams; and the Secretary of Agriculture is hereby authorized, and on such conditions as he deems wise, to stipulate and agree with any State or group of States to cooperate in the organization and maintenance of a system of fire protection on any private or state forest lands within such State or States and situated upon the watershed of a navigable river: Provided, That no such stipulation or agreement shall be made with any State which has not provided by law for a System of forest-fire protection.
National Park Service Established
National Park Service established within the Department of the Interior to manage national parks and monuments.
The Protection Act
42 Stat. 857:16 USC 594 Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior not only to protect Departmental land from fire, but also to cooperate with both Federal and state agencies, as well as private land-owners.
JUNE 7, 1924
43 Stat 653, 16 U.S.C. 564 Passed and extended federal ability to buy lands for National Forest System; encouraged cooperation among federal, state, and private sectors in forest management.
Colonel John White
Sequoia - Kings Canyon Superintendent Colonel John White orders his rangers to conduct a number of controlled burns to reduce ground fuels even though this was against policy.
Forest Protection Board Established
Forest Protection Board established to ensure a "coordination of effort through a central agency to facilitate cooperation among these (federal) agencies a well as with state and private protection services." The member agencies were the Interior Department's National Park Service, General Land Office, and Indian Service, and Agriculture's Forest Service, Weather Bureau, Biological Survey, Bureau of Entomology and the Bureau of Plant Industry.
The Economy Act
The Economy Act (47 Stat. 417; 31 U.S.C. 1535) authorizes Federal agencies to enter into contracts and agreements for services with each other.
Civilian Conservation Corps Established
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established "...that the unemployed could work for the prevention of forest fires and for soil erosion, flood control, removal of undesirable plants, insect control, and construction or maintenance of paths, tracks, and fire lanes on public lands."
10 A.M. Policy Adopted
10 A.M. Policy adopted by US Forest Service which stipulated that a fire was to be contained and controlled by 10 a.m. following the report of a fire, or failing that goal, control by 10 a.m. the next day and so on. This policy is implemented on a national scale and marked a high point in wildfire suppression.
Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program
USDA Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program. War posters carried fire prevention messages, "Careless Matches Aid the Axis" and "Our Carelessness, their Secret Weapon." In 1944 the Wartime Advertising Council decided to use an animal to carry the fire prevention message. Walt Disney agreed to lend the image of Bambi, for a year, to be the first to carry the message.
After viewing extensive fires in Florida that resulted from years of fire exclusion, Lyle Watts, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service gave national forests there permission, on a case-by-case basis, to use prescribed fire for the reduction of unnaturally high fuel accumulations. This policy change gave tacit recognition to the wisdom of managing the landscape with fire as practiced during the previous several thousand years by Native Americans and the European settlers who replaced them.
Bureau of Land Management
The Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to form the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior.
RELATED ITEMS: McCall Smokejumper Base
Smokey Bear Act
Public Law 82-359—This law gave control of the image of Smokey to the Secretary of Agriculture so that there would be no unlawful use of Smokey Bear's image. The Act provided for the use of collected royalties and fees for continued education on forest fire prevention.
Principles of Organization for Fighting Forest Fires
Principles of Organization for Fighting Forest Fires—issued by the U.S. Forest Service.
MAY 27, 1955
The Reciprocal Fire Protection Act
The Reciprocal Fire Protection Act 69 Stat. 66, 67; 42 U.S.C. 1856a as amended by The Wildfire Suppression Assistance Act of 1989 102 Stat. 1615 Authorizes reciprocal fire protection agreements with any fire organization for mutual aid, with or without reimbursement, and allows for emergency assistance in the vicinity of agency facilities in extinguishing fires when no agreement exists.
Ten Standard Fire Orders
U.S. Forest Service convenes a special task force to study fires where firefighter fatalities occurred, and devise safety guidelines; among other recommendations, the Ten Standard Fire Orders (SFO) are implemented modeled after U.S. Marine Corps general orders. In addition to the SFO, this report marks the origin of the 18 Watchout Situations and of the research into and use of fire behavior knowledge in wildland firefighting. It was also a milestone in the development of both National Advanced Resources Training Center and the incident command system.
JANUARY 28, 1957
Rayonier v. United States
RAYONIER, INC., v. UNITED STATES, 352 U.S. 315—which the Supreme Court decided that under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the United States is not immune from liability for negligence of employees of the Forest Service in fighting a fire, if in similar circumstances a private person would be liable under the laws of the State in which the fire occurred.
Wildlife Management in the National Parks: Leopold Report, released and set the course for future management of national parklands by recommending "...that the biotic associations within each park be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man. A national park should represent a vignette of primitive America."
Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577) passed and established the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Secretary of the Interior was directed to review every roadless area of 5,000 acres or more and every roadless island within the national wildlife refuge and national park systems for possible inclusion in the System. The Act also included some national forest lands in the System and directed the Secretary of Agriculture to recommend others. Over 100 million acres have been included in the National Wilderness Preservation System so far. Its implication to fire management was in the fact that these lands would be: ...protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition and these lands generally appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of natures. Section 2 (c) The following special provisions are hereby made...In addition, such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire...subject to such conditions as the Secretary deems desirable. Section 4(d)
RELATED ITEMS: Wilderness Act
Fire Policy Revised
National Park Service fire policy revised to allow "prescribed natural fires" in areas with approved fire plans.
Clean Air Act
PL chapter 360, 69 Stat 322, 42 USC 7401 et seq Amendments added in 1970, 1977, and 1999. The main purpose of this act is to protect and enhance the nation's air quality and to promote the public health and welfare. The act establishes specific programs that provide special protection for air resources and air quality-related.
Administrative Policies for Natural Areas of the National Park System
Administrative Policies for Natural Areas of the National Park System was released and stated "The presence or absence of natural fire within a given habitat is recognized as one of the ecological factors contributing to the perpetuation of plants and animals native to that habitat." This was a major shift in the Service's approach to fire, from one of suppressing all fires in national parks to that of managing fire. The new policy permitted the use of prescribed burning and allowed lightning fires to burn to help accomplish approved management objectives.
National Environmental Policy Act
PL 91-190, 42 USC 4321 et seq.
83 Stat. 852, 42 USC 4332, as amended
Forms the basic national charter for environmental protection. It ordered federal agencies to carry out their duties in such a way as to avoid or minimize environmental degradation. It required those agencies to conduct planning with studies of potential environmental impact for all management projects. The planning procedure, further, was to be open for public input.
Natural Fire Experiments
U.S. Forest Service modified its suppression policy and begins initiating natural fire experiments.
The Rural Development Act of 1972
Public Law 92-419—Authorized establishment of Voluntary Fire Assistance Program with up to $7,000,000 to organize, train, and equip local fire forces to prevent, control and suppress fires in rural areas.
Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area
First U.S. Forest Service wilderness fire management plan written for the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area. If weather and fuel conditions permitted, wildfires would be allowed to burn in the shrub fields and open ponderosa pines at 3,000 feet, along the breaks of the Selway River, and in the alpine larch at 8,500 feet.
Endangered Species Act
PL 93-205, 87 Stat 884, 7 USC 136, as amended—Requires federal agencies to ensure that their activities will not jeopardize the existence of any endangered or threatened species of plant or animal or result in the destruction or deterioration of critical habitat of such species.
OCTOBER 19, 1974
Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act
Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of et seq. 88 Stat. 1535; 15 U.S.C. 2201 as amended Authorizes reimbursement to State and local fire services for costs incurred in firefighting on Federal Property.
National Wildfire Coordinating Group Established
National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) established with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to facilitate the development of common practices, standards, and training among the wildfire community.
RELATED ITEMS: National Wildfire Coordinating Group
Mandatory Fire Shelters
US Forest Service makes it mandatory that all Forest Service firefighters carry a fire shelter.
National Park Service Fire Management Policy
NPS-18—Provided the Service with standardized terminology, direction and guidance for its fire management program. Each park was required to evaluate its fire needs and develop a fire management plan.
National Forest Manual
USDA Forest Service released the National Forest Manual that accepted fire management and the use of fire, and abandoned the 10 A.M. Policy.
Fire Management Program
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service establishes a formal Fire Management Program.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1978
Ouzel Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park threatens nearby community of Allenspark, Colorado. Initially managed for resource benefits as a prescribed natural fire, the Ouzel Fire was driven by strong downslope "Chinook" winds toward the park boundary. Winds eventually subsided and the fire was controlled within the park boundary. Recommendations from the fire review further clarified the NPS fire management planning and use of natural fires for resource benefits.
Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management issued its first policy for the management of lands designated as wilderness study areas. Fire management policy for designated wilderness areas was issued in 1981.
Supplemental Appropriation Act
96 Stat. 837—Authorizes both the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into contracts with State and local government entities, including local fire districts, for procurement of services in presuppression, detection and suppression of fires on any unit within their jurisdiction.
National Interagency Incident Management System
National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS) adopted by federal land management agencies.
U.S. Forest Service Policy Revised
U.S. Forest Service policy revised to clarify wilderness fire management objectives and the use of prescribed fire within wilderness.
SEPTEMBER 28, 1988
Fire Management Policy Review Team Established
Fire Management Policy Review Team established to review national policies and their applications for fire management in national parks and wilderness and to recommend actions to address problems experienced during the 1988 fire season.
MAY 5, 1989
Final Report on Fire Management Policy
Final Report on Fire Management Policy was released by the Fire Management Policy Review Team. It made 15 recommendations, some highlights include reaffirmation and strengthening of the prescribed natural fire policies, reaffirmed that fires are either prescribed or wild, fire management plans need to include interagency planning, stronger prescriptions, and additional decision criteria, daily confirmation by managers that adequate resources exist to manage the fire, and the use of prescribed fire to complement prescribed natural fire programs and to reduce hazardous fuels.
Bush administration directed the Department of Interior to fight all fires, regardless of origin or prescription, until each park or management area had revised its fire management plan to reflect the new, tightened policy.
OCTOBER 1, 1990
The Florida Prescribed Burning Act
State Statute 590.125(3)—This law authorized and promoted the continued use of prescribed burning for ecological, silvicultural, and wildfire management purposes. The statute promoted the use of fire, described the benefits of prescribed fire, the value of public outreach initiatives, and the need for continued prescribed burner training. It also protected prescribed burners from civil liability as long as they or their agents were not found generally negligent as defined in the 1990 Florida Supreme Court ruling Midyette v. Madison, 559 So.2d 1126 (Fla. 1990). In addition, prescribed burns conducted in accordance with the statute could no longer be terminated because of nuisance complaints. Since its passage, seven other southern states have passed identical or very similar legislation including Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
DECEMBER 5, 1990
General Accounting Office
General Accounting Office issues report titled Federal Fire Management Limited Progress in Restarting the Prescribed Fire Program that found benefits of allowing some fires to burn in controlled situations, progress and constraints on implementing a revamped prescribed fire program, and the need to monitor the program's implementation.
JULY 6, 1994
South Canyon Fire
near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, kills 14 firefighters—An interagency team was formed to investigate the fatalities and contributing factors. The subsequent 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Policy and Program Review, signed by both Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior, directed Federal wildland fire agencies to establish fire management qualifications standards to improve firefighter safety and increase professionalism in fire management programs.
RELATED ITEMS: South Canyon Fire Investigation
Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and Program Review
The Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and Program Review was chartered by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to ensure that Federal policies are uniform and programs are cooperative and cohesive. The report addresses five major topic areas, presents nine guiding principles that are fundamental to wildland fire management, and recommends a set of thirteen Federal wildland fire policies. While unique agency missions may result in minor operational differences, having, for the first time, one set of "umbrella" Federal fire policies will enhance effective and efficient operations across administrative boundaries and improve our capability to meet the challenges posed by current wildland fire conditions.
RELATED ITEMS: Federal Wildland Fire Policy
Cerro Grande Fire
Bandelier National Monument— prescribed fire in escaped control and burned over 45,000 acres and destroyed 235 homes in Los Alamos, New Mexico. National Park Service prohibits all prescribed fires west of the 100th Meridian for approximately one year.
RELATED ITEMS: Cerro Grande Fire
National Fire Plan
National Fire Plan adopted which increased funding and committed federal land management agencies to treat, by burning and thinning, 40 million acres of brush and dense forest during the first decade of the new century.
Thirty Mile Accident Prevention Plan
Following review of the fire, the Thirty Mile Accident Prevention Plan was developed and contained 38 action items, including 28 that are Interagency in nature to enhance fire fighter safety and training.
RELATED ITEMS: Thirty Mile Fire Information
MAY 18, 2002
Cerro Grande Prescribed Fire Investigation Report Released
Cerro Grande Prescribed Fire Investigation report released and found that federal personnel failed to properly plan and implement the Upper Frijoles Prescribed Fire, which became known as the Cerro Grande Prescribed Fire. Throughout the planning and implementation, critical mistakes were made. Findings and recommendations cover planning, implementation, and qualifications.
DECEMBER 3, 2003
Healthy Forest Restoration Act
P.L. 108-148—President Bush signs the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (P.L. 108-148), designed to reduce the risk of wild fires by thinning dense undergrowth and brush in forested areas.
JANUARY 12, 2004
Cramer Fire Investigation Report and Accident Prevention Action
Cramer Fire investigation report and accident prevention action is released. The investigation report contains 44 findings, nine causal factors and three contributing factors; the accident prevention action plan, which has agency-wide ramifications, contains five steps to implement. The key actions that, when implemented, would best prevent similar mishaps in the future, include strengthening command and control performance of agency administrators and fire managers and periodically re-certifying fire management leadership positions nationally.
OCTOBER 1, 2004
Interagency Fire Program Management Qualifications Standard and Guide
Implementation of the Interagency Fire Program Management Qualifications Standard and Guide (IFPM Standard) begins.
- 14 key fire management positions (Appendix B) and established minimum qualification standards with consideration for the complexity of the fire program where the position is located.
- Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approved Supplemental Qualification Standard for GS-0401 Fire Management Specialist, the selected series for professional fire management positions.
- Competency descriptors for key fire management positions.
- A rating guide for evaluating fire program complexity.
- Minimum grade levels predetermined by application of the complexity guide and the appropriate position classification standard.
- Standard Key Performance Elements based on the competencies for each position.
- A list of required and recommended training for designated agency managers.
- A system to determine when a "specialist" or center manager position is professional or technical based on pre-determined competencies and job complexity.
- Agreement that all IFPM fire positions classifiable at GS-11 and above are professional positions based on the required competencies and job complexity.