2018 Was The Worst Year In History For California Wildfires

The Woolsey Fire approaches homes on November 9, 2018 in Malibu, California.
David McNew / Getty Images

A new federal report confirms that the deadly wildfires that ravaged California last year were the worst the state has ever seen, according to the Los Angeles Times. The state saw 1.8 million acres of land burn — a massive leap from the previous worst year, which clocked in at 1.3 million acres — accounting for over a fourth of the land burned in the entire United States last year.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Scott McLean said that confirmed the National Interagency Coordination Center’s report.

“That’s the highest in the recorded history of California,” he said.

During 2018, over 8,000 wildfires killed more than 100 people, burned more than 17,000 homes, and razed over 7,000 businesses. The deadly Carr fire killed eight people and torched 230,000 acres in just over a month. Firefighters say that the blaze didn’t behave like traditional fires, with a fire tornado that lifted objects into the air. Also last year, the Mendocino Complex Fire was the largest in the state’s history, killing one firefighter and burning 459,000 acres.

After the worst of fire season had passed last year, the Woolsey fire broke out in both Ventura and Los Angeles counties while at the same time, the Camp Fire in northern California was wreaking its devastation. The Camp was both the costliest and the deadliest fire not only of 2018 but in the state’s history. As the fire burned through the region, entire towns were evacuated. Between the two fires, the state lost 250,000 to flames.

The report shows that about half of the land that was torched was on federal property.

MacLean said that the numbers are shocking, but it confirms what they’ve been seeing.

“It’s a surprise it’s that amount, but in a sense because of what I’ve seen over the last year, no it’s not,” he said. “It’s what we’ve been living through.”

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McLean says that firefighters are planning ahead for continued devastation, using prescribed burns and other strategies to starve fires of their fuel going forward.

Governor Gavin Newsome issued an executive order directing the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to focus on “pursuing a strategic approach where necessary actions are focused on California’s most vulnerable communities as a prescriptive and deliberative endeavor to realize the greatest returns on reducing risk to life and property.”

“It’s not going to stop when we complete these projects,” McLean said. “This program has to continue forever. It’s an ongoing process from here on out.”

The previous record-holding year was 2003, when 750,000 acres burned in just a few short weeks.