Skip to Main Content
U.S. Forest Service
Caring for the land and serving people

United States Department of Agriculture

Home > Search > Publication Information

  1. Share via EmailShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Twitter
    Dislike this pubLike this pub
    Author(s): W. Matt JollyPatrick H. Freeborn; Wesley G. Page; Bret W. Butler
    Date: 2019
    Source: Fire. 2: 47.
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    Station: Rocky Mountain Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (1.0 MB)


    Despite major advances in numerical weather prediction, few resources exist to forecast wildland fire danger conditions to support operational fire management decisions and community early-warning systems. Here we present the development and evaluation of a spatial fire danger index that can be used to assess historical events, forecast extreme fire danger, and communicate those conditions to both firefighters and the public. It uses two United States National Fire Danger Rating System indices that are related to fire intensity and spread potential. These indices are normalized, combined, and categorized based on a 39-yr climatology (1979-2017) to produce a single, categorical metric called the Severe Fire Danger Index (SFDI) that has five classes; Low, Moderate, High, Very High, and Severe. We evaluate the SFDI against the number of newly reported wildfires and total area burned from agency fire reports (1992-2017) as well as daily remotely sensed numbers of active fire pixels and total daily fire radiative power for large fires (2003-2016) from the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) across the conterminous United States. We show that the SFDI adequately captures geographic and seasonal variations of fire activity and intensity, where 58% of the eventual area burned reported by agency fire records, 75.2% of all MODIS active large fire pixels, and 81.2% of all fire radiative power occurred when the SFDI was either Very High or Severe (above the 90th percentile). We further show that SFDI is a strong predictor of firefighter fatalities, where 97 of 129 (75.2%) burnover deaths from 1979 to 2017 occurred when SFDI was either Very High or Severe. Finally, we present an operational system that uses short-term, numerical weather predictions to produce daily SFDI forecasts and show that 76.2% of all satellite active fire detections during the first 48 h following the ignition of nine high-profile case study fires in 2017 and 2018 occurred under Very High or Severe SFDI conditions. The case studies indicate that the extreme weather events that caused tremendous damage and loss of life could be mapped ahead of time, which would allow both wildland fire managers and vulnerable communities additional time to prepare for potentially dangerous conditions. Ultimately, this simple metric can provide critical decision support information to wildland firefighters and fire-prone communities and could form the basis of an early-warning system that can improve situational awareness and potentially save lives.

    Publication Notes

    • You may send email to to request a hard copy of this publication.
    • (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
    • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.


    Jolly, W. Matt; Freeborn, Patrick H.; Page, Wesley G.; Butler, Bret W. 2019. Severe Fire Danger Index: A forecastable metric to inform firefighter and community wildfire risk management. Fire. 2: 47.


    Google Scholar


    fire danger, firefighter safety, community fire risk, forecast, Severe Fire Danger Index, Burning Index, Energy Release Component

    Related Search

    XML: View XML
Show More
Show Fewer
Jump to Top of Page