How Destructive Were California’s Wildfires in 2020?

Five of the six worst wildfires in California's history occurred during a six-week period in 2020.
Five of the six worst wildfires in California's history occurred during a six-week period in 2020.
Five of the six worst wildfires in California's history occurred during a six-week period in 2020.

Whatever your thoughts on climate change, there are some statistics that are hard to dispute. For example, in August and September 2020, California suffered through five of its six worst wildfires on record, including an August fire that burned through nearly 850,000 acres -- almost twice the amount destroyed in the second-worst wildfire, which occurred in 2018.

Combined, the five fires in 2020 destroyed an area encompassing 2.4 million acres -- or more than three times the size of Rhode Island. Since recordkeeping began in 1932, California has seen a steady increase in both summer heat and wildfire destruction.

August of 2020 was the hottest August on record, and an unusual spate of lightning storms sparked the devastating fires that stretched into September. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, only four of the state's largest wildfires took place before 1990, and the ten 10 worst fires all occurred after the year 2000.

The word on wildfires:

  • According to the National Park Service, nearly 90 percent of all wildfires are started by human activity.

  • On average, the United States loses 1.2 million acres of forest to wildfires every year.

  • Approximately 4.5 million homes in the United States are considered at severe risk from wildfires; 2 million of those houses are in California.


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    • Five of the six worst wildfires in California's history occurred during a six-week period in 2020.
      Five of the six worst wildfires in California's history occurred during a six-week period in 2020.