California is no stranger to wildfire. Since 1895, more than 35 million acres ― one-third of the state ― have gone up in flames.
But a clear, alarming trend has emerged in recent decades as climate change, urban sprawl and other factors have driven extreme fire in the Golden State.
In the last two decades, 13 percent of the state has burned. In 2018 alone, more than 7,500 fires scorched a total 1.67 million acres, killing dozens of people and causing billions of dollars in damage. Records set in 2017 fell just one year later.
The threat is clear. Fifteen of the state’s 20 largest fires have occurred since 2002. The Mendocino Complex fire, which burned more than 450,000 acres north of Santa Rosa in July, surpassed last year’s Thomas fire as the largest wildfire in California’s history.
Additionally, 15 of the state’s 20 most-destructive fires on record have occurred since 2003. Coming in at No. 1 is November’s Camp fire, which engulfed more than 153,000 acres, destroyed nearly 19,000 structures and killed at least 86 people. The Camp fire topped the 2017 Tubbs fire, which torched some 5,600 structures and killed 22 people.
Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Fire and Resource Assessment Program or FRAP. (The dataset does not include information from years 1897, 1899, 1901, or 1904.) The FRAP dataset had incomplete data for 2018. 2018 was removed and replaced by data from the Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Wildland Fire Support database. We also intentionally left out 1878.