Wildfires did more damage in 2020 than in almost any other year in American history. There were nearly 59,000 blazes reported, scorching over 10 million acres in total. This was just the third time over 10 million acres burned in a single year, the others being 2015 and 2017.
No state was left untouched by wildfires in 2020. In a handful of states, less than 1,000 acres burned. But in more than a dozen states, over 100,000 acres were destroyed by fire — including 1.1 million in one state, and 4.1 million acres in another.
To determine the states where wildfires caused the most damage, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2020 National Report of Wildland Fires and Acres Burned by State from the National Interagency Fire Center. States are listed in order of total acreage burned in 2020.
The number of reported wildfires in 2020 was higher than typical in nearly every part of the country, but the West Coast bore the brunt of the active fire season. Oregon, Washington, California, and Colorado all reported enormous fires, including the August Complex in Northern California. It was the first recorded wildfire in the lower 48 states to burn over a million acres in U.S. history. That was one of three 2020 wildfires to rank among most devastating in American history. These are the 30 most destructive wildfires in the U.S. this century.
While California was especially hard hit by the fire season in 2020, it is not always the state with the most acreage burned. In 2019, more than half of the total acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. was in Alaska. In 2018, the Great Basin region — made up of nearly all of Utah and Nevada as well as the southern area of Idaho — accounted for a larger share of burned acreage than anywhere else in the country.
California was much more affected by fire in 2020 than is normal. Compared to the 10-year average, the number of acreage burned was 611% higher in Northern California and 446% higher in Southern California.
Nearly 18,000 structures were destroyed by wildfires in 2020, including almost 10,000 homes — more than triple the annual average. These fires also caused more than 40 fatalities. Just a few dozen of the largest fires caused an estimated $1.8 billion in damages.
Though it may not prove to be as bad as 2020, the 2021 wildfire season has been fairly active as well so far. As of Aug. 11, there have been nearly 40,000 wildfire incidents reported nationwide, burning more than 3.8 million acres.
Click here to see the states where wildfires cause the most damage.
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