Is that risk map current? Depends on the state.

Colorado’s wildfire risk map was so inaccurate that state officials just about ignored it — for many years. The map was outdated, especially in western Colorado, where 3+ million acres of forest was covered in beetle-killed pines.

Carolina Manriquez, a lead forester with the state’s forest service, said they were supposed to use the state risk map, but they knew it was not accurate and therefore couldn’t rely on it. As the E&E News recently reported, an infusion of $480,000 in state funds resulted in a new Colorado map with updates including pine beetle damage and densely populated mountain towns.

Colorado wildfire risk viewer
Colorado wildfire risk viewer

Including 2017 and 2020, when annual wildfires burned more than 10 million acres, the last decade has marked some of the worst fire seasons in history. The risk is compounded by both climate change and growing wildland/urban interface areas, particularly in the West. Some states — including Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Texas — have moved toward ensuring their fire risk information and maps are updated and more accurate, displaying areas of highest risk and most in need of prevention and mitigation.

Colorado fire risk mapping
Colorado fire risk mapping

“There is a slowly growing push among different states to do this,” said Joe Scott, founder of Pyrologix in Missoula. The firm provides utility wildfire risk assessment, catastrophe modeling, fuels treatment prioritization and management, and exposure analysis.

To improve wildfire risk maps, many states are partnering with firms such as Pyrologix that can build public-access display of fire risk data and conditions. Using satellite imagery, census information, and other data, advanced tools can  determine locations and ranges of ignition probability and fire intensity, along with threatened resource types. Gregory Dillon, director of the USFS fire modeling institute, says the state-specific maps are not a duplication of federal fire maps, but rather a more refined product.

The Kansas Forest Service unveiled in September its new wildfire risk explorer, a digital interactive map that provides a detailed look at statewide fire risk. The effort began in 2018 after several major wildfires including the 2017 Starbuck Fire, which burned some 500,000 acres and destroyed or damaged more than $50 million worth of livestock, fencing, and other resources.

“A lot of state-led efforts are trying to communicate to  communities and residents about the risk to private property or municipalities,” said Jolie Pollet, wildfire risk reduction program coordinator at the Department of the Interior.

That’s slightly different from federal mapping efforts focused on protecting federal lands, Pollet said. State-focused mapping can assess evacuation routes, encourage homeowners to reduce their  risk, and improve prepared applications for federal grants. State improvements such as those in Kansas also help forestry and fire officials allocate limited resources to focus on the highest priority areas.

Kansas launches wildfire risk tool

Kansas residents can now easily find their local wildfire risk through a new tool released by the state’s Forest Service.

The Kansas Wildfire Risk Explorer at allows residents to enter an address, city, or specific coordinates into an interactive map to see whether their current risk is low, moderate, high, or extreme. Residents can then generate a report specific to their area, along with precautions they can take to be prepared if a wildfire burns nearby.

Kansas wildfire risk assessment
                                                   Kansas wildfire risk assessment

“As a homeowner, you are not powerless in your defense against wildfires,” the website says. “By taking a proactive approach to wildfire mitigation, you can significantly increase your safety and your home’s likelihood of survival during a catastrophic wildfire event.”

Wildfire in Kansas, photo courtesy State Fire Marshal's Office
Wildfire in Kansas, photo courtesy State Fire Marshal’s Office

The tool began development in 2018 in conjunction with Kansas State University as an evolution of the National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS), which uses National Weather Service forecasts to predict fire danger.

In addition to wildfire risk, residents can also use the tool to evaluate “Wildfire Effects,” or areas where drinking water, infrastructure, and multiple environmental factors would be adversely affected by wildfires. This layer also shows areas where wildfire suppression would be especially difficult because of steep terrain or very dry vegetation.

The risk viewer also shows historical ignition patterns. This layer doesn’t map probability, but shows where ignition rates and frequency have been higher. The map shows that most ignitions have happened on the outskirts of the state’s most populated cities.

Kansas recorded more than 8,000 wildfires in 2022, about 3,000 more than the state’s yearly average. The last time the state hit its average of ~5,000 wildfires was in 2021 when two people died, 20 people were injured, and over 185,000 acres were burned, according to the Kansas Fire Marshal. Around 95 percent of the state’s wildfires were caused by humans.