The summer months bring children home from school and popsicles to the stores. But it’s not all sunshine and long, lazy days come May and June. Unfortunately, summers also bring weather conducive to unplanned and unwanted wildfires.
In the last decade, an average of 64,100 wildfires occurred annually, as reported by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). Every year these fires collectively burn 6.8 million acres, along with countless buildings destroyed, and lives lost. The recent 2020 Western United States wildfires and the 2010 Russian wildfires were among 23 of the largest wildfires the past 10 years, which have resulted in a lot of destruction. Take a look at the map below to see where more of these massive wildfires take place.
View Largest Wildfires of the Last Decade in a full screen map
The map is based on Wikipedia data we gathered in late September 2020. You can filter the map by negative effects of the fires (acres burned, buildings destroyed, and death count) or by when the wildfire occurred (month and year). Otherwise, read on for more information.
Wildfires result in multiple kinds of destruction, perhaps the most obvious being land. Though devastating to think about, the area burned helps provide an idea of the severity of these fires. The average football field amounts to 1.32 acres, yet by the time some of the largest wildfires were extinguished, they damaged 16,000,000 times that amount, as you’ll note below.
|Name||Approx. area burned (acres)||Approx. area burned (ha)|
|2019–20 Australian bushfire season||16,000,000||6,300,000|
|2014 Northwest Territories fires||8,600,000||3,500,000|
|2019 Siberia wildfires||7,400,000||3,000,000|
|2010 Bolivia forest fires||3,700,000||1,500,000|
|2018 British Columbia wildfires||3,339,170||1,351,314|
|2017 British Columbia wildfires||3,004,930||1,216,053|
|2020 Western United States wildfires||2,936,960||1,188,544|
|2015 Russian wildfires||2,700,000||1,100,000|
|2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires||2,240,000||906,000|
|2019 Alberta wildfires||2,182,960||883,414|
The table shows the 2019 Australian bushfires saw the most area burned this decade. This is nearly double the second-most, which notably took place in Canada. The Great White North was home to four of the ten largest wildfires. Specifically, British Columbia had two large fires and both the Northwest Territories and Alberta saw two each this decade.
Both Russia and Bolivia have seen their fair share of wildfires. The Siberia wildfires took place in 2019 while Russia faced similar issues with its 2015 fires. As for Bolivia, the country dealt with the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires and its 2010 forest fires are ongoing.
The only large wildfire not yet mentioned happens to be the most recent, beginning in late July 2020: the Western United States wildfires. Washington, California (where it’s known the worst statistic about the state is that 6.7 million acres burned in wildfires between 2008 and 2017) and Oregon faced the fires. While the newest addition to the top 10, these fires already burned nearly 3 million acres, though area burned isn’t the only consequence of wildfires.
In addition to land, buildings are also often burned down during a wildfire. This leaves even more to rebuild after the blaze finally dies out. While the exact number of buildings destroyed in a wildfire is not always known, there are cases with that data available.
The 2018 California wildfires destroyed 22,751 buildings, the most in recent years. 2018 was a terrible year for wildfires in California as the state’s 2018 Camp Fire saw 18,804 buildings go down, the second-most this decade. Finally, the 2020 Western U.S. wildfires are the last to result in over 4,000 destroyed. While impactful, land and buildings can be salvaged. What can’t be saved are the lives lost in these fires.
Area and buildings burned aren’t the only metrics of a wildfire’s destruction. Unfortunately, there’s also the death count—and the fires with the most land or buildings burned aren’t always the deadliest. These five wildfires saw 50 or more deaths:
- 2018 California wildfires (103)
- 2018 Attica wildfires (102)
- 2018 Camp Fire (85)
- June 2017 Portugal wildfires (66)
- 2010 Russian wildfires (54)
Both the 2018 California and Attica wildfires resulted in a death toll of over 100 people. Northern California’s Camp Fire nearly reached that level with 85 fatalities that same year. Portugal and the 2010 Russia fires saw 66 and 54 respectively. Thankfully, at least eight of the fires had no known casualties. Now let’s move on from the trends of wildfires’ negative effects to their to date commonalities.
The number of massive wildfires is increasing. The decade that began with just two large wildfires in 2010 ended with a string of scorching summer seasons.
From 2011 to 2016, there was just one large fire per year. Yet that number increased in 2017, a trend that continued the following year in 2018, the worst of the decade. 2019 also faced a similarly high amount of fires.
As for the months of the largest wildfires, you already know most have occurred throughout the summer. But which summer month(s) specifically?
The most dangerous month for the start of large wildfires has historically been July. May and August yield similarly high numbers (four each), which together, make up roughly 35% of the largest fires. When you combine all three of these months, nearly 61% of the largest fires over the last 10 years are accounted for. Find out how you can help in future wildfire seasons.
Wildfire season is an annual occurrence that appears to be getting worse as the years go on. But fires aren’t the only life-threatening emergency we should be prepared for, as 2020 proved.
You can make maps that help others during hard times, like how a South Philly graduate student mapped free food resources in her neighborhood with the help of BatchGeo. See her map that became a pandemic resource here. Then, get a full tutorial on how you too can make a disaster relief community resource map.