Generally, wildfire refers to an unplanned and uncontrolled burning of vegetation that usually occurs in rural areas. Wildfire types include (but are not limited to) bush fires, desert fires, grass fires, peat fires, vegetation fires, and more.
Such natural disasters are highly dangerous to both wildlife and people alike as they can cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem, alongside millions of dollars’ worth of material damages. This article is meant to highlight some of the key statistics associated with wildfire in order to foster a better understanding of these fires, while also encouraging people around the globe to band together whenever wildfires do occur.
Most Notable Wildfire Statistics — A Quick Overview
- The world’s deadliest wildfire was the Great Black Dragon Fire in China, burning a total of 18 million acres of land, and fatally injuring 200+ people.
- The 2019–2020 bushfire season in Australia caused the burning of over 46 million acres of forest while destroying over 10,000 structures.
- In 2018, a total of 8,054 wildfires occurred in California, which led to the burning of 1.8 million acres.
- Roughly 2 million properties are at risk of being destroyed by wildfires in California, followed by 717,800 properties in Texas.
- Up to 85% of wildfires are caused by humans through unattended campfires, cigarettes, equipment use, arson, and the burning of garbage.
Wildfire Statistics for 2020
In the last decade, there were 62,693 wildfires on average every year.
Wildfire is also known as wildland fire, is an unplanned and uncontrolled fire that occurs in the forests, grasslands, and land sown to crops. Wildfire statistics show that these uncontrollable fires impact nearly 7.5 million acres of land every year, burning wildland vegetation in rural areas.
In 2020, more than 58,250 wildfires occurred that burned nearly 10.3 million acres of land.
Although wildfires are common in forested areas of the US and Canada, California was the most affected state in 2020. This is among the most devastating wildfire statistics of 2020.
The year 2020 season was characterized by catastrophic wildfires that burned across the state of California, making it the largest wildfire season in history. The wildfire crossed nearly seven counties and was denoted as being larger than the state of Rhode Island.
In comparison to 2019, there were 6,523 more wildfires recorded in 2020.
Wildfire statistics in 2020 show that by December 18, there were nearly 57,000 wildfires in comparison to the number recorded in 2019. As per the National Interagency Fire Center, 50,477 wildfires were reported in 2019.
Six of California’s largest wildfires occurred in 2020.
The August Complex wildfire was the most devastating wildfire that burned in Northern California (Tehama County). The wildfire statistics show that it destroyed nearly 160 structures and burned down 1,002,097 acres of land in California. It caused one fatality. This blaze was one of the largest among the two dozen major wildfires in California.
Among the top reasons for unprecedented seasons of wildfires in California were severe drought and heat. In August, the Northern side of the Golden State saw a massive thunderstorm. However, this thunderstorm delivered very little rain and over 11,000 lightning strikes, which ignited more than 300 blazes, including the August Complex wildfire.
Researchers further state that these wildfires are due in part to severe climate change, leading to arid and hotter conditions, thus fueling more big-scale wildfires than what has been recorded in history.
Source: LA Times
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire ranked the third-largest wildfire in Northern California.
The SCU Lightning Complex Fire burned nearly 372,971 acres of land and was 35% contained. The wildfire affected the following areas: Santa Clara County, Alameda County, San Joaquin County, Contra Costa County, Merced County, San Benito County, and Stanislaus County. It left five dead and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
Global Wildfire Statistics
The world’s deadliest wildfire was the Great Black Dragon Fire, which occurred in northeast China, burning over 3 million acres (in China) and over 18 million acres in total (in the USSR)
According to data, this wildfire occurred in 1987 and affected a large portion of northeast China, alongside a huge section of Siberia, Russia (then the USSR). It lasted for about a month (considerably less than other such fires), and burnt hundreds of thousands of pine trees, as shown by wildfires statistics. Reports estimate that 200+ people were killed, whereas over 250 were injured and thousands were left without homes. The wildlife impact was also considerable, although accurate measurements were not kept back then.
Source: Guinness World Records
Estimates indicate that 47 million acres were burnt as part of the 2003 Siberian Taiga fires, which occurred in Russia, according to statistics on wildfires
Wildfires in Siberia are incredibly dangerous to the ecosystem, given the vast fauna which resides in the area. Luckily, wildfires that occur in Siberia do not cause large numbers of deaths, or property damage for that matter, due to the low population density in the area.
8.4 million acres of forest were burnt during the Northwest Territories fire of 2014 (Canada) as pointed out by wildfires worldwide statistics
This particular wildfire was started by a total of 100 separate fires that occurred as a result of drought and heat in the region. Substantial amounts of smoke due to the wildfire lead to decreasing air quality across Canada. Reports even suggest that some of this smoke traveled all the way to the western side of Europe. Luckily, no deaths were reported, yet most wildfire data sources indicate that property was indeed damaged.
The Israel Mount Carmel fire that occurred in 2010 led to the death of 44 people while burning down 41 square kilometers of forest
This is one of the biggest and deadliest recent fires from an international standpoint. Reports indicate that 44 prison service cadets were fatally-injured as their bus was caught on fire along the route, according to wildfire statistics.
Source: Earth Observatory
The 2019 South Korean Gangwon wildfire burnt down 1,307 acres of land and forest while also destroying more than 2,000 buildings
As such, this South Korean fire led to considerable material damage, worth tens of millions of dollars. Similarly, it also led to some serious injuries (30 people), including 2 deaths. Over 15,000 soldiers and firefighters were deployed in an attempt to put out the flames, as presented in global warming wildfires statistics.
The 2003 Portugal wildfire destroyed 10% of the country’s forests, while also causing considerable damage and 18 deaths
This fire is well-known for its negative impact on to Portuguese ecosystem. Unfortunately, several other fires occurred afterward, further damaging the local forests and ecosystem. Between June 2017 and October 2017, wildfires led to over 100 deaths and hundreds of injuries, according to statistics of injury from wildfires. Similarly, millions of dollars’ worth of damages were caused to buildings and local infrastructure.
The Siberian wildfires of 2015 and 2019 burnt millions of hectares of Siberian forests while also killing a few dozen people and destroying thousands of homes
This stat once again shows just how little the government can do to properly prepare for a wildfire, as pointed out by forest fire statistics time and time again. These events are somewhat unpredictable and extremely difficult to control, especially when spreading is facilitated by drought and heat.
The 2005 Australian Eyre Peninsula bushfire, commonly referred to as the Black Tuesday fire, resulted in 192,650 acres being burnt down while destroying some 93 houses in the process as well
It’s also worth noting that this fire led to the destruction of 316 farm sheds, including the local ecosystem. Historical wildfire data indicates that 9 fatalities and 115 injuries were reported for the bushfire that was caused by hot vehicle exhaust which lit up vegetation near the roadside.
The Australian Black Saturday bushfire (2009) burnt over 1.1 million acres while also destroying 3,500 or more buildings and killing hundreds of people
It is common knowledge that Australia often deals with highly aggressive bushfires that often wipe-out millions of acres of land (and forest). This is one such example, seeing how it led to some 173 fatalities and 414 injuries.
This event has surely increased the worldwide average for wildfire deaths per year. The fire caused damages worth over $100 million and was likely caused by power line failure, arson, machinery use, or lightning.
Source: Black Saturday Fires
The 2019–2020 bushfire season in Australia was the most talked-about wildfire event to occur recently, burning over 46 million acres of forest, including over 10,000 buildings
Unfortunately, the fires are still on-going (at the time of this writing), yet at a more controlled pace. Thousands of people have been left without a home, whereas the material damages are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Statistics about wildfires indicate that the fauna was affected the most by this bushfire season — luckily, NGOs and local businesses stepped in to help protect some of the wildlife.
Tens of thousands of people throughout the world donated, in an effort to help mitigate the impact of the wildfires. Over 33 fatalities were reported thus far, alongside several hundred injuries. The bushfires were likely started by accidents, lightning strikes, and possibly arson. Nevertheless, they were enhanced by severe drought, heat, and the positive Indian Ocean dipole.
Source: The Guardian
Recent US Wildfires Statistics (2015–Present)
This part of the article will be dedicated to sharing recent data concerning wildfires that occurred in the US. To put things into perspective, the US is often affected by tens of thousands of wildfires every year, yet most of them are quite small and are put out rather quickly. Despite this, US-based wildfires still cause millions of dollars in damages, affecting the local fauna, and burning down thousands of houses. Therefore, here are some yearly statistics for the US.
US Wildfire Stats
US wildfire 2015 stats reveal that the 2015 Valley wildfire (occurring in the US counties of Napa, Sonoma, and Lake) was ranked as the 5th most destructive fire to occur in California
This particular wildfire burnt down 76,067 acres of forest, destroying, or heavily-damaging, a total of 1,955 structures; 4 deaths and several injuries were also reported.
Roughly 10 million acres of land were burnt down by wildfires in 2015
These fires were facilitated by the intense drought that was reported across the US, especially in the west. Many of these fires were either man-made or started by lightning. 2015 is currently considered the worst season for wildfires yet.
According to fire season (2016) stats, a total of 65,575 wildfires occurred in the US during the fire season of 2016
This number is lower when compared to 2015 and 2017, yet these fires still caused great damage to the local fauna, burning down homes in the affected regions as well. Reports indicate that 5.4 million acres of land were burnt down.
The US wildfires of 2017 are largely considered as one of the most expensive ones yet; $12 billion were recorded in material damages
While 2018 may have broken the record, insurers throughout the US were forced to reconsider some of their coverage strategies to prevent bankruptcy. This makes sense given that the second-costliest US wildfire (the Tubbs Fire in CA), occurred in 2017.
2018 was the year of the most destructive, costliest, and deadliest wildfire to occur in California, wildfires of 2018 statistics reveal.
This statistic refers to the Camp Fire that occurred in Butte County, causing 85 deaths, as well as up to $10 billion in damages. This particular event also encouraged local public authorities to reconsider their strategies towards preventing and extinguishing such fires in the local forests.
Overall, a terrible year for the local flora and fauna, including homeowners as well.
Wildfires in the US by State
As highlighted in the following section, there are several US states that are significantly more prone to wildfires. In regions like these, numerous locals live in constant fear that their homes may be affected by an upcoming wildfire. California is, by far, the state with the highest wildfire occurrence rate and where material damages are often record-breaking; such was the case with the California wildfires of 2017. Other states worth mentioning include Texas and North Carolina.
California is regarded by experts as the riskiest state in terms of upcoming wildfires
Likewise, estimates show that up to 2 million properties are currently at risk of being burnt down by an upcoming wildfire. Local authorities have invested heavily in improving their fire defense infrastructure.
In 2018, a total of 8,054 wildfires occurred in California, which led to the burning of 1.8 million acres
As it was predicted, California once again took the title of the state with the largest burnt land area. It is also one of the top three states in terms of total wildfire numbers. What’s more, when considering the number of wildfires in California per year, the threshold usually gravitates around the 8,000-mark.
The 2018 Mendocino Complex wildfire, was the largest event of this type to occur in California, burning some 459,123 acres
This particular wildfire is one of the largest to ever occur in the US. Apart from burning down a considerable area of land, it also destroyed 280 structures and caused at least one death, as reported by the statistics of California wildfires.
The Camp Fire, Tubbs Fire, and Tunnel Fire were the most destructive California-based wildfires
The Camp Fire destroyed 18,000 structures, followed by the Tubbs Fire with 5,636 destroyed buildings, and the Tunnel Fire (2,900 burnt structures). Other destructive wildfires of California include, but are not limited to, the Cedar, Valley, Witch, Woolsey, Carr, Nuns, and Thomas wildfires, as reported by California wildfire stats.
Roughly 717,800 properties are at risk of being destroyed by wildfires in Texas
This stat makes perfect sense granted that Texas is almost on par with California when it comes down to the number of land acres affected by wildfire occurrences. Despite this, more than double the amount of properties are exposed to the same risk in CA.
On the other hand, ever wondered how many acres have burned in Montana? Well, despite the lower number when compared to California and Texas, as much as 29% of properties are at risk of being destroyed in this state.
Other states where numerous properties risk being burnt down include Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Montana, and Utah
In each of these states, over 136,000 buildings and structures are at risk of being destroyed in the case of uncontrolled wildfires. Luckily, since the Wyoming Fires of 2015, fewer occurrences were reported in this state.
Here is a list containing the top 5 US states in terms of the number of fires in 2018:
|States||No. of Wildfires|
However, a higher number of yearly wildfires does not entail that these states feature the largest number of acres burnt. The top states in this category for 2018 are California, Nevada, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Idaho.
Wildfire Causes Statistics
The top 10 largest wildfires to have ever occurred in California were caused by arson, human mistakes, lightning, and power lines
This stat once again indicates that mankind is directly responsible for most wildfires occurring throughout California, as well as in other regions of the world. As such, local public authorities have enhanced their efforts of preventing people from mistakenly starting such fires, which still remains the main cause of California wildfires.
Most wildfires that are man-made happen due to the intentional burning of garbage in forested areas, cigarettes, illegal acts of arson, unattended campfires, or equipment malfunctions
Despite these, a simple spark or a small fire is generally not enough to start a full-fledged wildfire. Likewise, other factors generally contribute to wildfire spreading — these include heat, drought, or the type of vegetation that is present in the area (some types burn faster than others).
Wildfires Statistics and the Insurance Industry
Areas that are prone to wildfires also affect insurance prices and overall coverage, especially in the case of buildings, personal cars, and business headquarters. This makes perfect sense considering the fact that wildfires can cause billions of dollars in material damages.
For instance, the North Carolina Carr Fire caused $1–1.5 billion in insurance losses. In the case of the Butte County Camp Fire, insured losses were estimated at almost $10 billion; thousands of buildings were damaged, leading to thousands of insurance claims, as reported by numerous wildfires statistics in the United States.
Hence, insurance agencies and reinsurers are cautious when optimizing their prices while insuring buildings and homes that are located in areas with wildfire hazards. Numerous agencies sell cheaper insurance that lacks wildfire coverage.
Lastly, there is also the case of insurance companies that are completely unwilling to provide coverage to people residing in areas such as California, where thousands of fires occur annually in the local forests.
All in all, it is essential for people who reside in wildfire-prone areas to make sure that their property is insured against fire damage. According to wildfire records, these events will continue occurring in the near future, as drought, excessive heat, and other contributing factors aren’t anywhere near to slowing down. Last but not least, it is essential for local authorities to ensure that the law is respected in areas with fire hazards, especially due to the fact that 85% of wildfires are, both directly and indirectly, caused by humans.