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The Top Free Data Sources for the 2021 US Wildfire Season

Guy Walker
. 5 min read
There has been a 30% increase in wildfires from 2020 to 2021.
Last year saw severe wildfires across much of the United States. California, for instance, saw a record 4.2 million acres burned by wildfires, setting state records.
Yet, it increasingly appears that these high-intensity wildfire events are no anomaly. Already over a million acres have been burned across the United States this year due to wildfires.
While wildfires in the western United States were historically most common between May and October, they have become increasingly unpredictable. More fires are now occurring outside this conventional period.
As we begin to move towards the peak months for wildfires in the United States, we have outlined some of the best free sources available for monitoring wildfires.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

Founded in 1963, the NIFC is the facility that houses the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) and the National Multi-Agency Coordination group (NMAC) in Boise, Idaho.
The NIFC was formed by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Weather Service to improve the efficiency of fire planning and operations in the United States.
Today, NIFC provides a range of valuable data for individuals and organizations. Through online services, such as InciWeb, NIFC records and publishes wildfire activity in near real-time. Users can track the location and perimeter of wildfires, monitor their size, the containment rate, and much more – all for free.

National Weather Service (NWS)

Started as the United States Weather Bureau, the National Weather Service is the most prominent of NOAA’s agencies. For over a hundred years it has provided climatic data, forecasts and warnings for individuals and organizations in the United States.
Just as the NWS proves crucial for hurricane monitoring, the NWS also is an essential wildfire source too.
The fire weather page on the NWS website provides a range of fire-related data, from seven-day fire weather forecasts to active fire weather watches and red flag warnings.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

While famous for their civilian space program, NASA also provides useful data for monitoring and responding to wildfires. 
NASA’s Aqua, Terra, S-NPP, and NOAA-20 satellites all use either Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) or Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suites (VIIRS) to monitor active fires across the globe. This data is then provided for free in their Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS).
One of the strengths of NASA’s FIRMS portal is that it provides global data. Its four satellites update their data every three hours, enabling users to see active fires and thermal anomalies around the world in near real-time.

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Founded in 1970 under the Nixon administration, the EPA is an independent executive agency tasked with environmental protection matters within the United States. While their programs cover a broad scope of environmental issues, their air quality work is of particular value during wildfire season.
Wildfire smoke and other pollutants are an often neglected risk in wildfire season. Academics at the University of California, San Diego say wildfire smoke is ten times more harmful to humans than car exhausts, for example.
As such, the EPA’s data, which is available for free in the AirNow portal, is a crucial source for organizations and individuals to stay safe during wildfire season. In addition, individuals can also access air quality data from dozens of US embassies and consulates across the world.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

While the above sources are largely focused on measuring and recording wildfire data, FEMA is a government agency that focuses on communication and minimizing the human-risk associated with wildfires. 
The organization is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security and its primary purpose is to coordinate the response to any US disaster that will, or has, overwhelmed state or local resources. 
FEMA’s Wildfire Hazard Overview Dashboard and its other services are essential for wildfire season. Not only do they provide some data from the above sources, but FEMA also shows shelter locations and the FEMA app provides users with evacuation warnings for high-risk fire events.

American Red Cross (ARC)

The ARC is a non-profit organization in the United States. It provides disaster preparation advice and emergency assistance and relief.
The non-profit is a valuable source both ahead of, and during wildfires. Like FEMA, ARC has an online map with all Red Cross shelters and also offers a range of resources in relation to wildfires too.
Their extensive guide on wildfire safety is also invaluable for both organizations and individuals who wish to improve their preparedness.

How WatchKeeper uses this data?

WatchKeeper uses all of these data sources – and more – to provide organizations with a complete end-to-end crisis management solution. By combining these sources into a single pane of glass, organizations are able to rapidly monitor, respond and even act ahead of time, to minimize threats to facilities and staff and mitigate against business disruption.
WatchKeeper is already being used by a number of global clients, including organizations with thousands of facilities in wildfire zones, as a means to better protect their organization against risk.
To find out more about WatchKeeper, and its broad range of features from Alert Manager to Case Management, please visit watchkeeper.com or email us at info@watchkeeper.com.
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