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  • Ben Jones

Wildfires in the US: Alarming Statistics and Trends

Updated: May 13

wildfires in the US

In this article:


Introduction


Wildfires in the United States are escalating not just in frequency but in ferocity, shaping a new norm that demands urgent attention and comprehensive understanding. In recent years, these blazes have scorched millions of acres, displacing communities and reshaping landscapes.


This article delves into the current trends, crucial statistics, and the transformative impact of wildfires from coast to coast, equipping readers with the insights needed to grasp the magnitude of these fires and the collective measures necessary to mitigate their impact.


Understanding the Devastating Rise of Wildfires in the Unites States



The total cost of wildfires in the United States is between $394 billion to $893 billion each year.


Wildfire Statistics by Year


Wildfires in the US are an escalating problem. While it may be difficult to see a clear trend in the number of acres burned each year, data shows a steady increase in the number of wildfire incidents across the country.


This suggests that even if the size of each wildfire hasn't changed dramatically, the frequency of these events is making the challenge even worse for firefighters and communities. Let's take a closer look at the wildfire statistics:


wildfires per year in the US since 2018

Looking at recent data on the number of wildfires per year in the US, we can see an upward trend in the number of fires per year, going from 58,100 wildfires in 2018 to 69,000 wildfires in 2022. Though a trend is harder to discern in the acres burned data, there exists a scientific consensus that wildfires are getting worse across the board.


wildfires per year and millions of acres burned in the US since 1993

A look at a longer time period shows a small decline in the number of fires per year in the US, but an upward trend in millions of acres burned per year. Data for both the recent and historical wildfire graph comes from the National Interagency Fire Center.


Graph showing growing rate of wildfire incidence in the US
Data from NIFC. North Carolina state lands are exempt from 2004 fires and acreage.

Wildfires have become increasingly prevalent and destructive in recent years, fueled by the worsening climate crisis. The numbers speak for themselves, painting a bleak picture of the damage caused by these infernos.


Wildfire Locations


wildfire locations
Image courtesy of NIFC

The areas most affected by wildfires in 2023 were primarily in the Southern Area, which accounted for nearly half of the overall distribution of wildfires and had the largest proportion of acres burned in the United States.


Additionally, significant incidents and resource mobilizations highlight the substantial impact in other areas, including California, where several large wildfires occurred, and regions like Colorado and New Mexico, which also experienced large-scale fires.


Riskiest States for Wildfires


In 2022, California emerged as the most vulnerable state to forest fires in the United States, significantly surpassing all others in terms of at-risk properties. With over two million properties facing the threat, California's risk was nearly triple that of the second-highest state, Texas, which had less than 717,000 properties at risk.


Based on the number of properties at extreme risk from wildfires, the top five riskiest states were:


  • California: 2,040,600

  • Texas: 717,800

  • Colorado: 373,900

  • Arizona: 242,200

  • Idaho: 175,000


Source: BankRate 


How are wildfires caused?


The causes of wildfires can be broadly divided into human and natural sources. Human-caused wildfires are unfortunately the leading factor, accounting for the majority of ignitions in the United States. These can stem from seemingly small actions like unattended campfires, the improper disposal of cigarettes, and burning debris.


Equipment malfunctions, including sparks from power lines, and sadly, acts of arson also contribute to this human-caused category. As for natural causes, lightning strikes are a common trigger, especially in dry, remote areas.


Less frequently, volcanic eruptions can ignite wildfires through their ash and lava flows. However, it's crucial to note that even naturally-ignited wildfires are often exacerbated by human-driven factors like climate change and land management practices.



California Wildfires Statistics: A State Under Threat


California burns like no other state in the US. In recent years, devastating wildfires have become a tragic hallmark of life in the Golden State. From the sprawling forests of the north to the chaparral-covered hills of Southern California, the risk is ever-present.


In 2020, California experienced its largest wildfire season on record, with over 4 million acres scorched. Five of its biggest ever wildfires occurred in 2020. Tragically, 31 people lost their lives as a result of wildfires in California in 2020.


The economic toll of these wildfires is staggering, reaching billions of dollars annually in direct firefighting costs, property damage, and lost economic activity.



The reasons behind California's wildfire crisis are complex. A mix of prolonged drought, a history of fire suppression that has created overgrown forests, and expanding development into wildfire-prone areas all play a major role. As the climate continues to warm, the situation in California serves as a stark warning for the rest of the US, and the world.


Global Wildfire Statistics: Is the US an Outlier?


While the wildfire crisis in the US is alarming, it's essential to investigate whether this is a uniquely American problem. Sadly, the answer is no. Wildfire devastation is a growing global concern, with countries like Australia, Canada, Brazil, and regions of the Mediterranean facing escalating wildfire risks:


  • Australia's Black Summer: The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season was one of the worst on record, burning over 46 million acres – an area larger than many countries. This unprecedented season also saw tragic losses of wildlife, with an estimated three billion animals killed or displaced.

  • Wildfires in the Wildland-Urban Interface: Expanding development into fire-prone areas is a global trend, making it difficult to separate human impact from natural factors. his creates the wildland-urban interface (WUI) where communities are at a much higher risk of devastating wildfires.

  • Shared Drivers: Many of the contributing factors to wildfires in the US – climate change, land use changes, legacy fire management practices – are problems on a global scale. Climate change leads to longer and hotter dry seasons while ineffective forest management can turn forests into tinderboxes.



What Can Be Done: Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation


While the wildfire crisis is a complex challenge, proactive measures at all levels can make a difference. Individuals can take responsibility by practicing fire-safe landscaping, always extinguishing campfires completely, and being mindful of activities that could generate sparks.


Communities can collaborate on wildfire protection plans, utilize prescribed burns to manage fuel loads, and implement stricter building codes in high-risk areas. On a broader level, increased funding for forest management, addressing climate change, and investing in advanced early warning systems are key to long-term fire resilience.


Innovative technology plays a crucial role in wildfire prevention and mitigation. Solutions like Dryad's Silvanet offer a powerful leap forward. By using ultra-early fire detection systems, Silvanet detects gas changes at the earliest possible stage, enabling fire crews to respond quickly and minimize damage. Integrating cutting-edge technology into our wildfire management toolkit is a critical component to protecting lives, property, and the natural resources we cherish.


graph showing wildfire response times

Conclusion: The Path Forward


The wildfire crisis is a defining challenge of our time. The statistics are grim, the threats are tangible, and the impacts are undeniable. However, amidst this daunting picture, there is a path forward. By understanding the interconnectedness of wildfires, climate change, and human actions, we gain the power to implement change. From individual responsibility to community collaboration and systemic policy shifts, it's time for comprehensive action.


Investing in innovative tech solutions like Dryad's Silvanet, which allows for ultra-early wildfire detection, is crucial for saving lives and minimizing devastation. Let's embrace the urgency of wildfire mitigation efforts. Our actions today will shape the future of our communities and our planet.


silvanet wildfire sensor

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