Wildland firefighters in the United States are exposed to a variety of hazards while performing their jobs. Although vehicle accidents and aircraft mishaps claim the most lives, situations where firefighters are caught in a life-threatening, fire behaviour-related event (i.e. an entrapment) constitute a considerable danger because each instance can affect many individuals. In an attempt to advance our understanding of the causes of firefighter entrapments, a review of the pertinent literature and a synthesis of existing data were undertaken. Examination of the historical literature indicated that entrapment potential peaks when fire behaviour rapidly deviates from an assumed trajectory, becomes extreme and compromises the use of escape routes, safety zones or both. Additionally, despite the numerous safety guidelines that have been developed as a result of analysing past entrapments, we found issues with the way factual information from these incidents is reported, recorded and stored that make quantitative investigations difficult. To address this, a fire entrapment database was assembled that revealed when details about the location and time of entrapments are included in analyses, it becomes possible to ascertain trends in space and time and assess the relative influence of various environmental variables on the likelihood of an entrapment. Several research needs were also identified, which highlight the necessity for improvements in both fundamental knowledge and the tools used to disseminate that knowledge.