The progression of the response to wildland fires and mitigation over more than 120 years is shown in a timeline taken from “Wildfire Management in the U.S. Forest Service: A Brief History” by Geoffrey H. Donovan and Thomas C. Brown of the U.S. Forest Service in the July 2005 Natural Hazards Observer, from the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center:

• Late 1800s – Severe fires in the Northeast and lake states prompt the federal government to manage wildfire under the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the assistance of the U.S. Army.

• 1905 – President Theodore Roosevelt transfers wildfire responsibility with a focus on watershed and timber protection to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Forestry (later to become the U.S. Forest Service).

• 1910 – A dry summer and wildfires in Idaho, Montana and Washington escalates into the “Big Blowup” that burned about 5 million acres, 3 million of which burned in a hurricane-force windstorm Aug. 20-21. Fires destroyed towns and killed at least 78 people. As a result, the USFS adopts a policy of strict fire protection.

• 1920s-1930s – Several extreme fire seasons occur during the period before and during the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal creates the Civilian Conservation Corps, which increases manpower to fight wildland fires.

• 1935 – The “10 a.m.” policy to suppress all fires by 10 a.m. the day after they are reported is put into effect.

• 1944 – The Smokey Bear education campaign begins with a focus to prevent forest fires.

• Late 1940s-1950s – Post-World War II, USFS receives surplus vehicles and aircraft and expands use of fire engines and bulldozers in wildland fire fighting.

• 1955 – Converted aircraft used for the first time to drop retardant.

• 1960s-1970s – Public attitudes about land management begin to shift.

• 1968 – National Park Service recognizes natural role of fire and adopts wildfire use program.

• 1971 – The 10 a.m. policy is amended to contain all fires before they reach 10 acres.

• 1972 – USFS adopts Wilderness Prescribed Natural Fire Program, and some wildfires in wilderness areas are allowed to burn.

• 1978 – The 10 a.m. policy is discontinued.

• 1978 – Congress eliminates emergency funding for presuppression.

• 1979 – National Fire Management Analysis computerized fire planning and budgeting tool developed

1988 and 2000 – Fire escapes management control at Yellowstone National Park (1988) and Los Alamos (2000) to become “destructive” wildfires.

• 2000 – National Fire Plan begins the effort to reduce hazardous forest fuels through prescribed burns and mechanical thinning.

• 2003 – Healthy Forest Restoration Act expedites the planning and approval process for carrying out fuel reduction work.

• 2009 – Guidance for Implementation of Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy, which lays out current policies for USFS, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service, is adopted.

• 2018 – Wildfire Disaster Funding Act provides a dedicated fund for USFS firefighting so mitigation funds are not affected by wildland firefighting expenses.

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