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The 20 deadliest wildfires in California state history

  • 2 Content Exchange

Photo Credit: Photoonlife / Alamy Stock Photo

This past Thursday morning, the Camp Fire broke out in Butte County, devastating the town of Paradise, California. Later that day, both the Woolsey Fire and Hill Fire forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, just shortly after a gunman took the lives of 12 at a nearby country music bar.

Fueled by low humidity and strong winds, these fires come at the tail end of what will likely be the most destructive fire seasons on record, claiming dozens of lives, thousands of homes, and hundreds of commercial buildings.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire), there have been 6,814 fires in 2018 that have burned a combined 1.3 million acres. The most notable of which prior to this week was the Mendocino Complex Fire, which started in July 2018 and burned more than 450,000 acres. It surpassed the Thomas Fire of 2017 to become the largest wildfire in state history.

To put the most recent fires in context, researchers at Lattice Publishing analyzed historical fire records from CAL FIRE dating back to 1932. The data shows that California is experiencing a trend towards larger and more destructive fires than at any other time in recorded history, which experts attribute to a combination of factors including a warmer and drier climate.

The Camp Fire, while not among the largest by total acres burned, is both the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history. As of November 13, 2018, the Camp Fire has claimed 44 lives, destroyed close to 7,000 structures, and burned 125,000 acres of land. Containment is at approximately 30 percent and hundreds of people are still missing.

Below is a look at California’s worst fires since 1932 by loss of life, structures destroyed, and total size.

  • Ten of the 20 deadliest fires on record have occurred since 2000, five of which occured in the past two years.
  • Fourteen of the 20 most destructive fires on record have occurred since 2000, seven of which occured in the past two years.
  • And fifteen of the 20 largest fires have occured since 2000, three of which occured in the past two years.
  • Human-induced triggers, including smoking, campfires, arson, powerlines, vehicles, fireworks, and debris burning, are the leading causes of California’s most destructive fires.

California’s Worst Wildfires on Record


Data is from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and covers the time period 1932 to present. Fires with the same death count are listed by date. CAL FIRE defines “structures” as homes, outbuildings (barns, garages, sheds, etc.) and commercial properties that were destroyed. The data is current as of November 13, 2018. Visit CAL Fire for the most up-to-date information on the Camp Fire.

This article originally ran on Content Exchange

(2) comments




Almost every year, there are wildfires in CA. They get a lot of vegetation growing in the spring, and it dries in late summer. Hot dry winds come in and it’s a volatile problem. All that dried vegetation burns like crazy. Then, if we get a wet winter, the burned areas have no vegetation, so we get a lot of mudslides.

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