Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Wednesday that in 2015, wildfires burned a record 10,125,149 acres across the United States, surpassing the previous record set in 2006. More than half of those acres were in one state, Alaska, with 5.1 million blackened acres, which was more than quadruple their average of 1.2 million and was the most acres burned since 2004 (6.6 million).
In 2015, more than 50 fires exceeded 50,000 acres each; of those, 20 exceeded 100,000 acres. In 2015, more than 4,500 homes and other structures burned in wildfires and a total of 13 wildland firefighters, including 7 U.S. Forest Service firefighters, lost their lives in the line of duty.
The Secretary renewed the call for Congress to pass the bi-partisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. The cost of the Forest Service’s wildfire suppression reached a record $243 million in a one-week period during the height of suppression activity in August. With a record 52 percent of the Forest Service’s budget dedicated to fire suppression activities, compared to just 16 percent in 1995, the Forest Service’s firefighting budget was exhausted in 2015, forcing USDA to transfer funds away from forest restoration projects that would help reduce the risk of future fires, in order to cover the high cost of battling blazes.