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This list of the worst fires in California history puts the Camp fire in tragic perspective

This list of the worst fires in California history puts the Camp fire in tragic perspective
[Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Wikimedia Commons]

So far, the Camp fire in Northern California has scorched some 135,000 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire. While the blaze is only 35% contained, it has already become the deadliest and costliest in state history.

The Camp fire has destroyed 8,817 structures so far, 7,600 of them homes; the Woolsey fire burning around Los Angeles and Ventura County, has burned 97,114 acres (which is roughly the size of Denver) and destroyed some 370 structures. The Hill fire, also in Ventura County, has burned through 4,531 acres so far.

To put these fires in historical context, we looked through Cal Fire’s list of blazes through the years. While they’ve been keeping track of fires since at least 1932, the vast majority of fires have taken place in the last few decades as the planet warms up and dries out, and as people move further from urban centers, putting their homes at greater risk.

These are the most destructive fires in California history (structures include homes, outbuildings like barns and garages, and commercial properties):

  • Camp fire, November 2018–135,000 acres so far, 7,639 structures, 42 deaths
  • Tubbs, October 2017–36,807 acres burned, 5,636 structures lost, 22 deaths
  • Tunnel, October 1991–1,600 acres burned, 2,900 lost, 25 deathss
  • Cedar, October 2003–273,246 acres burned, 2,820 structures lost, 15 deaths
  • Valley, September 2015–76,067 acres burned, 1,955 structures lost, 4 deaths
  • Witch, October 2007–197,990 acres burned, 1,650 structures lost, 2 deaths
  • Carr, July 2018–229,651 acres burned, 1,604 structures lost, 7 deaths
  • Nuns, October 2017–54,382 acres burned, 1,355 structures lost, 3 deaths
  • Thomas, December 2017–281,893 acres burned, 1,063 structures lost, 2 deaths
  • Old, October 2003–91,281 acres burned, 1,003 structures lost, 6 deaths

These are the largest wildfires in California history:

  • Mendocino Complex, July 2018–burned 459,123 acres
  • Thomas, December 2017–burned 281,893 acres
  • Cedar, October 2003–burned 273,246 acres
  • Rush, August 2012–burned 271,911 acres in California and 43,666 in Nevada
  • Rim, August 2013–burned 257,314 acres
  • Zaca, July 2007–burned 240,207 acres
  • Carr, July 2018–burned 229,651 acres
  • Matilija, September 1932–burned 220,000 acres
  • Witch, October 2007–burned 197,990 acres
  • Klamath Theater Complex, June 2008–burned 192,038 acres
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