Wildfires have intensified in the last 10 years, says Michelle Ryerson, chair of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group's Safety and Health Working Team. More extreme fires require more complex methods of firefighting, leading not only to higher costs but a change over time in the risks that firefighters face.

In 1987, Ryerson's team began keeping records on firefighter fatalities, collecting data since 1910, in an effort to spot trends and develop better safety measures. Burnover deaths -- deaths caused when firefighters are caught in advancing flames -- have decreased due to faster alert systems, while vehicle accidents (particularly for volunteers) and aircraft crashes have increased as firefighters rely more on machines and travel farther afield.

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