Forest Fires and Suppression 1926 - 2017

Week 11 Dataset and Historical Background

Posted by Jonathan Leek on May 16, 2018

Historical Background

I've always had a soft spot for the Pacific Northwest, especially the forests. It should come as no suprise then, that I have tremendous respect for forest fires, and the brave men and women who fight them, either as professionals or as volunteers. Each year, forest fires destroy thousands of acres of forest. Air temperatures can exceed 1,470 °F, and the fires can have a forward rate of spread of upwards of 10 mph.

This week, we're going take a look at these terrifying forces of nature, and the steps we take to suppress them. The dataset is a combination of a few different tables from the National Interagency Fire Agency, an organization that coordinates responses to wildland fires in the United States. They have a lot of interesting data outside of what I'll be using this week; if this subject matter interests you, I highly recommend checking out their website.

The dataset is pretty simple; number of fires per year, how many acres those fires covered, and how much money was spent by the Forest Service and Department of Interior Agencies spent suppressing those fires. While it's a relatively simple dataset, I'm confident we'll be able to find some interesting stories.

Data Notes

There are a few notes on the data this week:

  • Values are in thousands;
  • Until 1959, the 'total' figure includes persons who did not report on their number of years of schooling completed; and
  • In 1992, the Census questions changed, influencing the data as follows:
    • 'High School Graduate' falls into the 'High School - 4 Years' category, meaning that regardless of the number of years required to graduate (early graduates), graduates are counted as completing 4 years;
    • Those completing 'Some College' or their Associates Degree fall into the 'College 1-3 Years' bucket;
    • The 'College 4 Years' bucket includes those attaining their Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate or Professional degrees; and
    • Because of these changes, the median years completed is unavailable.

Data Source

We'll be using data from the Total Wildland fires and Acres table, as well as the Suppression Costs table. The NIFC actually doesn't know the source of the acreage data before 1983, so take any numbers before that year with a grain of salt.

It's also important to note that expenditures are not adjusted for inflation as provided.