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 2017 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. Losses from wildfires added up to $5.1 billion over the past 10 years.

Wildfires by year

2019: From January 1 to July 30, 2019 there were 25,619 wildfires compared with 37,591 wildfires in the same period in 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 3.2 million acres were burned in the 2019 period, compared with 4.8 million acres in 2018.

2018: In 2018 there were 58,083 wildfires, compared with 71,499 wildfires in the same period in 2017, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 8.8 million acres were burned in the 2018 period, 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 in state history with 459,123 acres burned.

The Carr Fire, which broke out on July 23 in Northern California, is the 8th most destructive fire in the state’s history. Eight fatalities are attributed to the fire, and 1,614 structures have been destroyed. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that insured losses from the Carr Fire will total between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in dollars when it occurred.

Insured residential, commercial and auto losses from the Mendocino Complex and Carr Fires topped $845 million, according to the California Department of Insurance. The two fires resulted in 8,900 homes, 329 businesses, and 800 private autos, commercial vehicles, and other types of property damaged or destroyed. More than 10,000 claims have been filed.

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. At least 88 people perished. About 153,000 acres were burned and 18,800 structures have been destroyed, according to Cal Fire statistics. The fire burned almost 14,000 residences and about 530 commercial structures. The remainder were minor structures. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that insured losses from the Camp Fire will total between $8.5 billion and $10.5 billion in dollars when it occurred.

Further south two other major fires, the Hill and Woolsey Fires, also caused considerable damage. Both 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 Insurance Information Institute estimates that insured losses from the Woolsey Fire will total between $3 billion and $5 billion in dollars when it occurred. The Hill Fire burned about 4,500 acres and destroyed four structures.

The California Department of Insurance said that as of April 2019 insurance claims from the Camp, Hill and Woolsey fires in November 2018 were already over $12 billion.

2017: In 2017, there were 71,499 wildfires, compared to 65,575 wildfires in the same period in 2016, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 10 million acres were burned in the 2017 period, compared with 5.4 million in 2016. 2017 acres burned were higher than the 10-year average.

Beginning October 6 and continuing until October 25, eight counties in Northern California were hit by a devastating outbreak of wildfires which led to at least 23 fatalities, burned 245,000 acres and destroyed over 8,700 structures.

In December five major fires in Southern California destroyed over a thousand homes and buildings. One of the fires, the Thomas Fire, became the largest wildfire ever recorded in California. Loss estimates are not yet available from the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO, but it has provided relative rankings for the Atlas, Tubbs and Thomas fires as the costliest wildfires in the United States. All three are estimated to have caused more than $2.8 billion in insured losses. The California Department of Insurance reported that insurance claims from the October-December fires add up to almost $12 billion, which makes the 2017 fire season the costliest on record. However, the 2018 Camp and Woolsey Fires are likely to become the most costly fires in U.S. history when insured loss data are compiled.

Annual Number of Acres Burned in Wildland Fires, 1980-2018

 

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

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

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Total Potential Exposure To Wildfire Damage By Risk Category, 2014 (1)

($ billions)

State Low Moderate High Very high
Arizona $9.64 $0.98 $1.76 $1.57
California 75.84 61.92 89.35 16.10
Colorado 18.63 11.53 14.58 13.91
Idaho 9.20 5.56 3.71 2.62
Montana 14.63 4.43 2.29 2.40
Nevada 4.24 5.19 4.57 0.16
New Mexico 11.65 4.62 7.07 2.46
Oklahoma 31.92 16.77 0.03 0.00
Oregon 8.24 9.49 11.91 3.20
Texas 59.53 147.68 48.26 6.33
Utah 2.85 3.93 0.77 0.01
Washington 84.07 18.08 2.88 0.51
Wyoming 3.68 2.62 0.49 0.33
Total, states shown $331.27 $292.81 $187.66 $49.61

(1) Reconstruction value of single-family residences at risk.

Source: CoreLogic, Inc., a data and analytics company.

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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 2,048,800 1 Montana 28%
2 Texas 715,300 2 Idaho 26
3 Colorado 366,200 3 Colorado 17
4 Arizona 234,600 4 California 15
5 Idaho 171,200 5 New Mexico 14
6 Washington 154,900 6 Utah 14
7 Oklahoma 152,900 7 Wyoming 14
8 Oregon 148,800 8 Oklahoma 9
9 Utah 133,100 9 Oregon 9
10 Montana 133,000 10 Arizona 8

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

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Wildfires By State, 2018

 

State Number of fires Number of acres burned
Alabama 970 15,464
Alaska 367 410,683
Arizona 2,000 165,356
Arkansas 1,119 24,071
California 8,054 1,823,153
Colorado 1,328 475,803
Connecticut 52 40
Delaware 0 0
District of Columbia 0 0
Florida 2,249 138,820
Georgia 2,572 14,236
Hawaii 3 21,979
Idaho 1,132 604,481
Illinois 6 120
Indiana 26 115
Iowa 386 8,014
Kansas 71 59,234
Kentucky 376 8,417
Louisiana 647 10,742
Maine 542 678
Maryland 76 359
Massachusetts 320 210
Michigan 431 3,786
Minnesota 1,344 17,005
Mississippi 1,168 21,194
Missouri 103 6,025
Montana 1,342 97,814
Nebraska 35 122
Nevada 649 1,001,966
New Hampshire 145 61
New Jersey 625 1,347
New Mexico 1,334 382,345
New York 109 848
North Carolina 3,625 18,058
North Dakota 1,026 19,557
Ohio 67 337
Oklahoma 1,707 745,097
Oregon 2,019 897,263
Pennsylvania 1,276 3,614
Puerto Rico 25 389
Rhode Island 32 14
South Carolina 1,136 9,939
South Dakota 433 5,027
Tennessee 341 3,763
Texas 10,541 569,811
Utah 1,333 438,983
Vermont 59 113
Virginia 1,266 15,224
Washington 1,743 438,834
West Virginia 467 6,370
Wisconsin 825 1,678
Wyoming 611 279,243
United States (1) 58,083 8,767,492

(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, 2018

 

Rank State Number of fires Rank State Number of acres burned
1 Texas 10,541 1 California 1,823,153
2 California 8,054 2 Nevada 1,001,966
3 North Carolina 3,625 3 Oregon 897,263
4 Georgia 2,572 4 Oklahoma 745,097
5 Florida 2,249 5 Idaho 604,481
6 Oregon 2,019 6 Texas 569,811
7 Arizona 2,000 7 Colorado 475,803
8 Washington 1,743 8 Utah 438,983
9 Oklahoma 1,707 9 Washington 438,834
10 Minnesota 1,344 10 Alaska 410,683

Source: National Interagency Fire Center.

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Wildfire Losses In The United States, 2008-2017 (1)

(2017 $ millions)

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

Source: © 2018 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 2018 dollars (2)
1 Nov. 8-25, 2018 Camp Fire, CA (3) $8,500 - $10,500 $8,500 - $10,500
2 Oct. 8-20, 2017 Tubbs Fire, CA (3) 7,500 - 9,500 7,700-9,700
3 Nov. 8-22, 2018 Woolsey Fire, CA (3) 3,000 - 5,000 3,000 - 5,000
4 Oct. 8-20, 2017 Atlas Fire, CA (3) 2,500 - 4,500 2,600-4,600
5 Dec 4 - 23, 2017 Thomas Fire, CA (3) 1,500 - 3,500 1,530-3,600
6 Oct. 20-21, 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, CA 1,700 2,851
7 Oct. 21-24, 2007 Witch Fire, CA 1,300 1,552
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 1,417
10 Oct. 25-Nov. 3, 2003 Old Fire, CA 975 1,304

(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 August 8, 2019.
(2) Adjusted for inflation through 2018 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

 

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 (Under investigation) 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 (Powerlines) October 2007 San Diego 197,990 1,650 2
10 Klamath Theater Complex (Lightning) June 2008 Siskiyou 192,038 0 2

(1) As of February 19, 2019.

Source: CalFire.

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Top 10 Most Destructive California Wildfires

 

Rank Fire name and cause Date County Acres Structures Deaths
1 Camp Fire (Under investigation) 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 (Powerlines) October 2007 San Diego 197,990 1,650 2
7 Woolsey (Under 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 (Powerline) October 2017 Sonoma 54,382 1,355 3
10 Thomas (Under investigation) December 2017 Ventura and Santa Barbara 281,893 1,063 2

(1) As of February 19, 2019.

Source: CalFire.

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Top 10 Deadliest California Wildfires

 

Rank Fire Name and Cause Date County Acres Structures Deaths
1 Camp Fire (Under investigation) 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 February 19, 2019.

Source: CalFire.

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