New Forest Service “Wildfire Risk to Communities” Website

This is an example of the mapping for Seeley Lake MT

Kevin Vogler sent in this announcement:

Here’s a link to that the USFS rolled out this afternoon:

Wildfire Risk to Communities is a free, easy-to-use website with interactive maps, charts, and resources to help communities understand, explore, and reduce wildfire risk. It was created by the USDA Forest Service under the direction of Congress and is designed to help community leaders, such as elected officials, community planners, and fire managers. This is the first time wildfire risk to communities has been mapped nationally with consistent methodology. Unlike other risk assessments that may focus on multiple values at risk, this analysis was designed to provide information related to the risk to homes and other buildings.

The highest mission priority for the Forest Service is sustaining our ability for wildfire management and emergency response. This interactive website provides valuable information on what communities can take to mitigate wildfire risks.

It’s always interesting to look at your favorite areas on the maps. I forwarded this to my county planning department in case they hadn’t seen it.

11 thoughts on “New Forest Service “Wildfire Risk to Communities” Website”

  1. So, the U.S. Forest Service has a new “highest mission priority?”

    “The highest mission priority for the Forest Service is sustaining our ability for wildfire management and emergency response.”

  2. Actually all red is not a bad thing. Just looking at Missoula Country, almost all of the darker red is nowhere near any communities (and is often in places that should burn, especially wilderness), so I see a big disconnect between what they are advertising and what this is. And if they used it to prioritize fuels reduction solely based on these colors, it would make no sense at all. (You might say the maps are kind of “inflammatory.”)

    • Great points Jon. I certainly noticed that too when I zoomed in and out of Missoula, Montana. Basically, the entire landscape outside of the valleys were red. Wow, how useful.

    • provides a number of different data products. You were likely looking at the ‘Risk to Homes’ Section. More information on the various data products can be found in the top right ‘?Glossary’.

      Risk to Homes:
      Risk to homes integrates wildfire likelihood and intensity with generalized consequences to a home everywhere on the landscape. The Risk to Homes data poses the hypothetical question, “What would be the relative risk to a house if one existed here?” It asks that question whether a home actually exists at that location or not. This allows us to compare the wildfire risk in places where homes already exist to places where new construction may be proposed.

      The Risk to Homes data integrate wildfire likelihood and wildfire intensity from simulation modeling. These two risk components represent wildfire hazard. To translate this into terms specific to the effect of fire on homes, Wildfire Risk to Communities uses a generalized concept of susceptibility for all homes. In other words, Wildfire Risk to Communities assumes all homes that encounter wildfire will be damaged, and the degree of damage is directly related to wildfire intensity. Wildfire Risk to Communities does not account for homes that may have been mitigated.

      The likelihood and expected wildfire intensity in the foothills surrounding Missoula are much higher than the grassy valley bottom. All data summaries and rankings are based on the actual raw data (including where homes actually exist) not the 5 value color ramp as seen in the map. The map legend provided a fair amount of consternation between the data geeks and tech delivery folks involved. In the end we opted for a more easily accessible legend they may miss some of the data nuances.

      If folks have access to ArcGIS I would highly recommend taking a look at the Data Download section where all of the base data (30-meter resolution) is available for download at various spatial scales. Also included are recommended legend breaks they may show more of the resolution you are interested (e.g

      Additionally, if folks are interested in wildfire risk mapping (especially those in Montana) my group is presenting the results of a state wide assessment completed with MT DNRC on April 23rd via a webinar (

      • Thanks for this additional information.

        Regarding this point you made: “The map legend provided a fair amount of consternation between the data geeks and tech delivery folks involved. In the end we opted for a more easily accessible legend they may miss some of the data nuances.”

        Yes, pretty much all I saw around Missoula was bright red.

        • You can query the data summaries at three spatial scales: A Community, A County, or A State. The graph on the left-hand side will show where the community, county, or state compares with others either within your state or within the country.

          The Map rescales the legend using percentile breaks based on the values within the Community, County, or State you searched for. I would suggest searching for Montana as a State and then looking again.

          In my opinion, the greatest value is in reviewing the tabular summaries that provide the backbone of those rankings as well as being a repository for all the federal, state and nonprofit resources that are available to help mitigate risk. For folks in Montana it probably does not come as too much surprise that Ravalli county came out as number 1 in the state for risk. I was somewhat surprised how high it ended up ranking when comparing to areas such as in SoCal.

        • And my point was that showing risk to homes that may be built in places where homes can’t be built is at best not useful and at worst misleading. (That’s not to disparage the value of this information where homes are or may be built – including mine.)

  3. The Wildfire Risk to Communities data sets were completed at 30 meters for all 50 states (including Alaska and Hawaii). All summaries/rankings are based on the risk of where homes are currently mapped as existing and weighted by population at risk using census data.

    I understand your point, but great care was taken to make sure that the data covered all lands and ownership groups with a consistent methodology. I would be hard pressed to come up with a map of where structures can’t be built across all 50 states. Last summer for example, a chalet was built in the heart of Glacier National Park and there is a backcountry cabin in the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The risk to those structures as well as others that happen to be currently located within national parks, natural recreation area, etc. are also mapped. The risk to homes map does not provide any guidance or value judgement on whether a structure can or should be built on any given location. It just maps the relative risk at a given location if one were to be.

    • With that said – I appreciate any an all feedback on what folks think works / doesn’t work or improvements that could be made in the future. The web portal is a very recent development on what has been several years of model development, calibration and wildfire simulation work.


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