Facts + Statistics: Wildfires

Wildland fires

As many as 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by people, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. Some human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, downed power lines, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson. The remaining 10 percent are started by lightning or lava.

According to Verisk’s 2019 Wildfire Risk Analysis 4.5 million U.S. homes were identified at high or extreme risk of wildfire, with more than 2 million in California alone. 

Wildfires by year

2020: From January 1 to October 16, 2020 there were 45,939 wildfires compared with 43,509 wildfires in the same period in 2019, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 8.3 million acres were burned in the 2020 period, compared with 4.5 million acres in 2019. Six of the top 20 largest California wildfires fires occurred in 2020, according to CalFire’s list.

On September 28, a state of emergency was declared in California in response to the wildfires that burned through Napa, Sonoma and Shasta Counties, where tens of thousands were forced to evacuate.

By October 16, the Glass Fire in Napa County and Sonoma County burned about 67,500 acres and destroyed 1,555 structures. State authorities ordered 70,000 residents of Sonoma and Napa Counties to evacuate, including the entire city of Calistoga in Napa Valley. The Creek fire in Fresno and Madera counties has burned 348,000 acres, destroying 983 structures.

In early October, 65 large fires were burning in California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and five other states consuming over 2 million acres. In Oregon thousands of residents evacuated their homes to escape the flames that scorched more than 230,000 acres. In California fires are burning from the north all the way down to the Mexican border, stretching across approximately 800 miles of landscape. In Washington, more acres had been burned in 2020 than in the past 12 fire seasons. The fires are being fueled by continuing dry conditions.

In August, a series of lightning strikes started hundreds of fires across Northern California. Dubbed the August Complex fire, they are the largest fire in California’s history, burning 1.03 million acres. Another fire, the SCU Lightning Complex, located in five counties in northern California near San Francisco, is the third largest fire on record in the state, burning almost half a million acres. The LNU Lightning Complex spanning five counties, was nearly as large. The North Complex fire, encompassing three counties burned 319,000 acres and was the sixth largest fire in the state’s history. The SQF complex fire was the 8th largest California fire, burning 168,000 acres.

2019: In 2019 there were 50,477 wildfires compared with 58,083 wildfires in 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). About 4.7 million acres were burned in 2019 while there were 8.8 million acres burned in 2018.

The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County ignited on October 23, and burned about 78,000 acres—an area more than twice the size of the city of San Francisco. According to CalFire, 374 buildings were destroyed, and 60 more were damaged.

The Getty fire in Los Angeles broke out on October 28, fueled by strong Santa Ana winds, with wind gusts up to 80 miles an hour and burned 745 acres.

In Ventura County, the Maria fire began on October 1 and burned 10,000 acres and destroyed four structures. The Ranch fire, ignited November 3, burned 2,500 acres.

2018: In 2018 there were 58,083 wildfires, compared with 71,499 wildfires in 2017, according to the NIFC. About 8.8 million acres were burned in 2018, compared with 10 million in 2017. The Mendocino Complex Fire broke out on July 27 in Northern California and grew to be the largest fire state history to date, with 459,000 acres burned. The Carr Fire, which broke out on July 23 in Northern California, wabs the eighth most destructive fire in the state’s history to date. Eight fatalities are attributed to the fire, and 1,614 structures were destroyed. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) estimates that insured losses from the Carr Fire totaled between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in dollars when it occurred.

The Camp Fire broke out in Butte County, Northern California on November 8 and became the deadliest and most destructive fire on record in the state to date. According to Cal Fire statistics 85 people perished. About 153,000 acres were burned and 18,800 structures were destroyed. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The Triple-I estimates that insured losses from the Camp Fire totaled between $8.5 billion and $10.5 billion in dollars when it occurred.

The Hill and Woolsey Fires started on November 8. The Woolsey Fire burned about 97,000 acres, according to Cal Fire. It destroyed about 1,600 structures and killed three people. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The Triple-I estimates that insured losses from the Woolsey Fire totaled between $3 billion and $5 billion in dollars when it occurred. The Hill Fire burned about 4,500 acres and destroyed four structures.

2017: In 2017 there were 71,499 wildfires, compared to 65,575 wildfires in 2016, according to the NIFC. About 10 million acres were burned in 2017, compared with 5.4 million in 2016. The number of acres burned in 2017 was higher than the 10-year average. From October 6 to October 25, eight counties in Northern California were hit by a devastating wildfire outbreak that caused at least 23 fatalities, burned 245,000 acres and destroyed more than 8,700 structures.

The Tubbs Fire began on October 8 and destroyed almost 37,000 acres and 5,600 structures and claimed 22 victims. The Triple-I estimates that insured losses from the Tubbs Fire totaled between $7.5 billion and $9.7 billion in dollars when it occurred. The Atlas Fire also began on October 8 and consumed 52,000 acres and destroyed 120 structures. Six people perished in the Atlas Fire. According to the Triple-I the Atlas Fire caused insured losses of between $2.5 billion and $4.5 billion when it occurred. The Thomas Fire was ignited on December 4. It burned 282,000 acres and destroyed 1,063 structures. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The Triple-I estimates that insured losses from the Thomas Fire totaled between $1.5 billion and $3.5 billion when it occurred.

Annual Number of Acres Burned in Wildland Fires, 1980-2019

 

*2004 fires and acres do not include state lands for North Carolina.

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

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FireLine®, Verisk’s wildfire risk management tool, assesses wildfire risk at the address level using advanced remote sensing and digital mapping technology. The three primary factors considered in analyzing wildfire risk are distribution of vegetative fuel, steepness of slope and degree of access for firefighting equipment. FireLine assigns a wildfire hazard score for each factor plus a cumulative score, on a scale from negligible to extreme risk. The following chart ranks the most wildfire-prone western U.S. states by high to extreme wildfire risk as of 2019. According to Verisk estimates, more than 4.5 million U.S. properties are at high to extreme wildfire risk.

Top 10 States At High To Extreme Wildfire Risk, 2019 (1)

 

Rank State Estimated number
of properties at risk
Rank State Percent of
properties at risk
1 California 2,019,800 1 Montana 29%
2 Texas 717,800 2 Idaho 26
3 Colorado 371,100 3 Colorado 17
4 Arizona 237,900 4 California 15
5 Idaho 175,000 5 New Mexico 15
6 Washington 160,500 6 Utah 14
7 Oklahoma 153,400 7 Wyoming 14
8 Oregon 151,400 8 Oklahoma 9
9 Montana 137,800 9 Oregon 9
10 Utah 136,000 10 Arizona 8

(1) As of September 2019.

Source: Verisk Wildfire Risk Analytics used data from FireLine®, Verisk's wildfire risk management tool.

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Wildfires By State, 2019

 

State Number of fires Number of acres burned
Alabama 1,107 22,158
Alaska 720 2,498,159
Arizona 1,869 384,942
Arkansas 660 8,602
California 8,194 259,148
Colorado 857 40,392
Connecticut 88 72
Delaware 0 0
District of Columbia 0 0
Florida 2,121 122,500
Georgia 3,158 12,407
Hawaii 155 10,710
Idaho 960 284,026
Illinois 2 41
Indiana 38 523
Iowa 153 2,020
Kansas 19 21,167
Kentucky 755 11,714
Louisiana 361 3,059
Maine 355 142
Maryland 140 1,498
Massachusetts 289 248
Michigan 361 1,128
Minnesota 1,021 5,862
Mississippi 959 5,473
Missouri 67 5,091
Montana 1,474 64,835
Nebraska 15 9,478
Nevada 562 82,282
New Hampshire 16 25
New Jersey 727 11,346
New Mexico 859 79,887
New York 79 221
North Carolina 3,872 14,548
North Dakota 488 4,454
Ohio 498 1,038
Oklahoma 1,104 67,142
Oregon 2,293 79,732
Pennsylvania 547 691
Puerto Rico 97 2,906
Rhode Island 45 33
South Carolina 992 5,939
South Dakota 346 2,261
Tennessee 571 5,478
Texas 6,892 215,493
Utah 1,025 92,380
Vermont 19 22
Virginia 364 2,643
Washington 1,394 169,742
West Virginia 593 7,653
Wisconsin 710 1,198
Wyoming 486 41,857
United States (1) 50,477 4,664,366

(1) Includes Puerto Rico.

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

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Top 10 States For Wildfires Ranked By Number Of Fires And By Number Of Acres Burned, 2019

 

Rank State Number of fires Rank State Number of acres burned
1 California 8,194 1 Alaska 2,498,159
2 Texas 6,892 2 Arizona 384,942
3 North Carolina 3,872 3 Idaho 284,026
4 Georgia 3,158 4 California 259,148
5 Oregon 2,293 5 Texas 215,493
6 Florida 2,121 6 Washington 169,742
7 Arizona 1,869 7 Florida 122,500
8 Montana 1,474 8 Utah 92,380
9 Washington 1,394 9 Nevada 82,282
10 Alabama 1,107 10 New Mexico 79,887

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

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Wildfire Lossses In The United States, 2010-2019 (1)

(2019 $ millions)

(1) Adjusted for inflation by Munich Re based on the Consumer Price Index.

Source: © 2020 Munich Re, NatCatSERVICE.

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Top 10 Costliest Wildland Fires In The United States (1)

($ millions)

      Estimated insured loss
Rank Date Name, Location Dollars when
occurred
In 2019
dollars (2)
1 Nov. 8-25, 2018 Camp Fire, CA (3) $8,500-$10,500 $8,700-$10,700
2 Oct. 8-20, 2017 Tubbs Fire, CA (3) 7,500-9,700 7,800-10,100
3 Nov. 8-22, 2018 Woolsey Fire, CA (3) 3,000-5,000 3,100-5,100
4 Oct. 8-20, 2017 Atlas Fire, CA (3) 2,500-4,500 2,600-4,700
5 Dec 4-23, 2017 Thomas Fire, CA (3) 1,500-3,500 1,600-3,600
6 Oct. 20-21, 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, CA 1,700 2,900
7 Oct. 21-24, 2007 Witch Fire, CA 1,300 1,600
8 Jul. 23-Aug. 30, 2018 Carr Fire, CA (3) 1,000-1,500 1,000-1,500
9 Oct. 25-Nov. 4, 2003 Cedar Fire, CA 1,060 1,400
10 Oct. 25-Nov. 3, 2003 Old Fire, CA 975 1,300

(1) Property losses only for catastrophic fires. Effective January 1, 1997, ISO's Property Claim Services (PCS) unit defines catastrophes as events that cause more than $25 million in insured property damage and that affect a significant number of insureds and insurers. From 1982 to 1996, PCS used a $5 million threshold in defining catastrophes. Ranked on dollars when occurred. As of September 30, 2020.
(2) Adjusted for inflation through 2019 by the Insurance Information Institute using the GDP implicit price deflator.
(3) Insurance Information Institute estimate based on data from catastrophe risk modelers, reinsurance companies, the California Department of Insurance, and the Property Claims Services unit of Verisk Analytics. These estimates are preliminary because the organizations involved periodically resurvey the events, and the severity of losses and other factors create a high level of uncertainty surrounding the ultimate loss figures.

Source: Insurance Information Institute, catastrophe risk modelers, reinsurance companies, the California Department of Insurance, the Property Claim Services® (PCS®) unit of ISO®, a Verisk Analytics® company, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

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Top 10 Largest California Wildfires (1)

 

Rank Fire name and cause Date County Acres Structures Deaths
1 Mendocino Complex (Under investigation) July 2018 Colusa County, Lake County,
Mendocino County and Glenn County
459,123 280 1
2 Thomas (Power lines) December 2017 Ventura and Santa Barbara 281,893 1,063 2
3 Cedar (Human related) October 2003 San Diego 273,246 2,820 15
4 Rush (Lightning) August 2012 Lassen 271,911 CA/43,666 NV 0 0
5 Rim (Human related) August 2013 Tuolumne 257,314 112 0
6 Zaca (Human related) July 2007 Santa Barbara 240,207 1 0
7 Carr (Human related) July 2018 Shasta County, Trinity County 229,651 1,604 8
8 Matilija (Undetermined) September 1932 Ventura 220,000 0 0
9 Witch (Power lines) October 2007 San Diego 197,990 1,650 2
10 Klamath Theater Complex (Lightning) June 2008 Siskiyou 192,038 0 2

(1) As of August 8, 2019.

Source: CalFire.

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Top 10 Most Destructive California Wildfires (1)

 

Rank Fire name and cause Date County Acres Structures Deaths
1 Camp Fire (Power lines) November 2018 Butte 153,336 18,804 85
2 Tubbs (Electrical) October 2017 Napa and Sonoma 36,807 5,636 22
3 Tunnel (Rekindle) October 1991 Alameda 1,600 2,900 25
4 Cedar (Human related) October 2003 San Diego 273,246 2,820 15
5 Valley (Electrical) September 2015 Lake, Napa and Sonoma 76,067 1,955 4
6 Witch (Power lines) October 2007 San Diego 197,990 1,650 2
7 Woolsey (Unde investigation) November 2018 Ventura  96,949 1,643 3
8 Carr (Human related) July 2018 Shasta County, Trinity County 229,651 1,614 8
9 Nuns (Power lines) October 2017 Sonoma 54,382 1,355 3
10 Thomas (Power lines) December 2017 Ventura and Santa Barbara 281,893 1,063 2

(1) As of August 8, 2019.

Source: CalFire.

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Top 10 Deadliest California Wildfires (1)

 

Rank Fire Name and Cause Date County Acres Structures Deaths
1 Camp Fire (Power lines) November 2018 Butte  153,336 18,804 85
2 Griffith Park (Unknown) October 1933 Los Angeles 47 0 29
3 Tunnel - Oakland Hills (Rekindle) October 1991 Alameda 1,600 2,900 25
4 Tubbs (Electrical) October 2017 Napa & Sonoma 36,807 5,643 22
5 Cedar (Human related) October 2003 San Diego 273,246 2,820 15
6 Rattlesnake (Arson) July 1953 Glenn 1,340 0 15
7 Loop (Unknown) November 1966 Los Angeles 2,028 0 12
8 Hauser Creek (Human related) October 1943 San Diego 13,145 0 11
9 Inaja (Human related) November 1956 San Diego 43,904 0 11
10 Iron Alps Complex (Lightning) August 2008 Trinity 105,855 10 10

(1) As of August 8, 2019.

Source: CalFire.

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