Wildfire Stats and Facts in the US - Recent Statistics
Whether it’s a Spanish man running for his life with clothes ablaze, unprecedented wildfires in Alaska, or a ‘heat apocalypse’ that has already killed hundreds and continues to wreak havoc across southern Europe, wildfires have been all over the news in recent weeks. Whether referred to as wildfires, forest fires, bushfires, or wildland fires, we're hearing more about them.
The climate crisis is greatly exacerbating the prevalence and frequency of wildfires, with dire consequences for the planet, wildlife, people and livelihoods.
But what do the numbers say? Right on cue, our friends at Bankrate have collated a set of recent wildfire statistics for the United States, bringing together various authoritative sources. In this blog, we will draw your attention to some of these wildfire stats and facts.
Wildfire Stats at a Glance
The figures couldn’t be more alarming:
4.5 million U.S. homes are at high or extreme risk from wildfires. (Verisk)
There were nearly 60,000 wildfires in 2021, which affected 7.1 million acres, compared to just 18,229 wildfires and 1,323,666 acres lost in 1983 when official record-keeping began. (National Interagency Fire Center)
There has been a 17% increase in US wildfires from 2019 to 2021 and a staggering 223% increase since 1983. (NIFC)
Humans cause as many as 90% of wildfires. (US Department of Interior)
Five of California’s 20 biggest ever wildfires occurred in 2020. (iii)
2020 wildfires in the US caused $16.5 billion in damages, making it the third-costliest year on record; 2017 being the highest at $24 billion and 2018 a close second at $22 billion. These figures do not account for indirect damages, which experts estimate cost around $150 billion for the record-setting 2018 wildfire season. (Yale Climate Connections)
2020 wildfires cost California 4.2 million acres of land, 10,500 structures and the lives of at least 31 people. (iii)
The Financial Cost of Wildfires in the US
The billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted and loss of carbon sinks for subsequent CO2 sequestration as a result of wildfires is catastrophic. Furthermore, wildfires destroy vast swathes of land and habitats and with them, highly complex and bountiful ecosystems.
There are also dire financial implications from wildfires. The Insurance Information Institute has rated the costliest wildfires in the US. The figures are eye-watering:
Camp Fire, 2018: Total damages from the costliest U.S. wildfire of all time are estimated at $10 billion, roughly $10.38 billion in 2021 dollars.
Tubbs Fire, 2017: The Tubbs fire incurred $8.7 billion in estimated insured losses or about $9.23 billion by 2021 value.
Woolsey Fire, 2018: The Woolsey Fire cost $4.2 billion in estimated losses, or $4.36 billion after inflation.
Oakland Fire (Tunnel), 1991: This wildfire in the early 90s caused estimated losses of $1.7 billion, or $3.24 billion with inflation taken into account.
Atlas Fire, 2017: The Atlas Fire cost about $3 billion in damages, or what would be $3.18 billion in 2021.
Glass Fire, 2020: The Glass Fire cost about $2.95 billion when it occurred, equivalent to $3.07 billion by 2021.
CZU Lightning Complex Fire, 2020: The CZU Lightning Complex Fire cost $2.5 billion in estimated insured losses, or around $2.6 billion after inflation.
Thomas Fire, 2017: $2.43 billion in damages in 2021 dollars.
LNU Lightning Complex fires, 2020: A large complex of wildfires with damages totalling $2.34 billion adjusted for inflation.
Witch Creek Fire, $2.08 billion of estimated losses in 2021 dollars.
California has borne the brunt of wildfires in the US - both historically and recently - with 9,279 fires, 4,197,628 total acres burned, 10,488 structures destroyed, and at least 31 lives lost in 2020 alone (iii). Other states in the US highly at risk of wildfires include Texas, Colorado, Arizona and Idaho (Verisk).
A Worsening Problem
Increased news coverage of wildfires and their capacity for destruction suggests that the problem is worsening. Unfortunately, the hard numbers support this:
Data from NIFC. North Carolina state lands are exempt from 2004 fires and acreage.
Despite annual fluctuations, the trendline is impossible to ignore. The increased frequency of wildfires poses an existential risk to our planet and its species and unless something can be done to address the damage wrought, the consequences are unimaginable.
A common problem with wildfire mitigation more generally is that the majority of detection methods at the moment rely on ocular-based technology such as CCTV systems and satellites. It can often be hours before these systems successfully detect a fire and alert the authorities, which is often far too late.
Detection Time is Critical
When it comes to wildfires, time is of the essence. Dryad's Silvanet provides ultra-early fire detection, sensing smoke, hydrogen and other gases emitted by pyrolysis in the early stages of a wildfire, giving fire fighters valuable time and a chance to extinguish the fire before it spreads out of control.
Dryad provides ultra-early detection of wildfires using solar-powered gas sensors in a large-scale IoT mesh network placed within a forest. With Dryad’s game-changing detection capabilities, wildfires can be detected far earlier and therefore put out far easier, stopping them in their tracks.
This will prevent the emission of thousands of tonnes of CO2 and save our precious and vital rainforests. By 2030, Dryad aims to save 1.4m hectares of forest from burning and prevent 600m tons of CO2 emissions.