World Facts

The Worst Fires in California

Many areas of California are prone to harsh wildfires.

California has experienced some of the most destructive wildfires in the American history. California has arid, windy, and hot conditions which produce the devastating fires from the late spring season through to autumn. The wildfires are fanned by the Santa Ana winds in the southern parts and the Diablo winds in the northern regions. The government of the United States spends over US$3billion annually to fight the wildfires, and some of these fires cause hundreds of billions of dollars in property losses.

The Worst Wildfires in California

1) Mendocino Complex Fire

The Mendocino complex fire is the worst wildfire complex (Ranch and River fires) in the history of the state. These wildfires are currently burning in Colusa, Lake, and Mendocino counties in the United States. The wildfires were reported on July 27, 2018, and by August 7th, 2018, only 34% had been contained with over 302,086 acres of land burned. 20% of the Ranch fire and 78% of the River fire had been contained with the flames on the northern flanks spreading towards the 60,076 acres Snow Mountain Wilderness.

2) Thomas Fire

Thomas Fire is the second worst wildfire in California which affected Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The wildfire began on December 4, 2017 in Southern California, and it burned about 281,893 acres of land in the state. The Thomas wildfire was contained on January 12, 2018, and it had already destroyed 1,063 structures and damaged 280 others buildings. The fire caused US$2.176billion in damages, and this includes the suppressed costs of about US$204.5million. It was the seventh most destructive fire in California’s history. Over 104,607 people had been evacuated by January 2, 2018. Over 8,500 firefighters were mobilized to fight the fire, which was the highest number of firefighters assembled in the state’s history.

3) Cedar Fire

Cedar fire was the big wildfire which consumed over 273,246 acres of land in the county of San Diego. The wildfire began in October 25, 2003, and its rapid growth was driven by the Santa Ana winds which caused it to spread at a rate of 3,600 acres per hour. Cedar fire killed 15 people and destroyed over 2,820 buildings. The fire was contained by November 4, 2003 but hotspots continued to burn until December 5, 2003. The wildfire caused over US$1.3billion in damages.

4) Rush Fire

The Rush fire began in Lassen County, California on August 12, 2012, and spread to Washoe County in Nevada. It was the largest fire on the California wildlife season of 2012. The wildfire burned 315,557 acres of sagebrush, a crucial habitat for the near-threatened Greater sage-grouse. By the time the fire was contained on August 30, 2012 it has burned 271,991 acres of land in California and 43,666 acres in Nevada.

Other Deadly Wildfires in California

Over five wildfires in the history of California have consumed over 250,000 acres of land in the state, with Rim Fire being the fifth worst fire in California which consumed over 257,314 acres. Rim Fire began on August 2013 in Tuolumne County and destroyed 112 buildings. The sixth-worst fire in the state which consumed 240,207 acres of land in Santa Barbara was the Zaca Fire. Although the Matilija Fire did not damage any structure, it burned over 220,000 acres of land in Ventura County.

The Worst Fires in California

RankFire NameYearAcres
1Mendocino Complex2018290,692
2Thomas2017281,893
3Cedar2003273,246
4Rush2012271,911
5Rim2013257,314
6Zaca2007240,207
7Matilija1932220,000
8Witch2007197,990
9Klamath Theater Complex2008192,038
10Marble Cone1977177,866

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