So the Fires Seem Bad This Year But Are They Really? Wildfires by the Numbers


Photo from the Valley Fire by @EPN564 photos. Follow on Twitter for more images direct from the front lines.

Are the fires really as bad as they seem this year? How do the ones raging across California this season compare to those in years past?

Let’s take a quick look:

  • For January 1, 2014 through September 2014 there were 3,638 fires and 90,894 acres burned.
  • But for this year in the same time period, there are 5,225 fires and 217,827 acres burned.
  • The average for Cal Fire for the same time period, is 3,642 fires and 84,526 acres burned.

Do a little math and you can see that this year, so far, 133,301 more acres than average burned in Cal Fire controlled areas.

That is an enormous jump….

And we haven’t even added in the acreage from fires on federal land (Most of the large fires in Trinity County this year are on Federal land.)

That was the long answer to the question of whether the fires are really as bad as they seem. The short answer is …they are far, far worse than any we have experienced before.




  • Pingback: [UPDATE 1:50 p.m.] Swift Moving Valley Fire Burns 95 Square Miles, Only 5% Contained (Latest Maps!) | Redheaded Blackbelt

  • bet most or at least half are arson fires
    think anyone caught starting arson fire should be drawn & quartered and left for coyote food

    • Most have actually been lightning this year, at least in Nor Cal. The Valley fire is an Unknown cause, so far, but the origin is off of Bottle rock road in Cobb valley, so I am sure they will name a cause very soon.

    • Roast them first, no point poisoning the wildlife

  • It’s understandable given that this drought is the most severe in 500 years according to scientists who have just examined Blue Oak core samples in the Central Valley. But it’s likely to get worse in the future. California is undeniably hotter and getting hotter which means that even in wet years there will be less snowpack and vegetation patterns will change in response.

    • just imagine a drought this bad ,
      a decade or more ago when lake tahoe water level dropped to historic low levels , they found tree stumps , 3 foot diameter tree stumps from an old drought a thousand years ago .
      they were only 20-25 feet below regular low levels .
      can you imagine a drought like that if it hit now with all the people drinking water and wasting water like they do now

  • I remember a firestorm near El Cajon near San Diego that burned over 2000 homes in 2003.
    It is still considered worst wildfire in recent times.
    It was called the Cedar Fire.

    • It was the largest in California history, but the not the most expensive, most destructive, or deadliest, so “Worst” is subjective.

      • The Cedar Fire burned over 280,00 acres and burned more than 2,800 homes.
        It was after that fire that the CDF really started cracking down on defensible space.
        According to wikipedia.

    • Actually, the El Cajon area is almost solid buildings and pavement, heavy to parking lots and drive-thrus, so a fire can pretty much only burn structures and a dead grassy slope here and there.

      • The year I was there I observed lots of dangerous tall fire brush built up on the hillsides. Similar to some areas of Shelter Cove.
        It was a horrific firestorm that bled into urban areas from years of fuel loading.
        The Governor can put all the blame on climate change but he is missing an opportunity to go from fire suppression into fire management. Most fire pro’s would say the same thing.
        And let us not forget, the current thinking on fire stopped working a long time ago. Time for a new approach. San Diego is not all grassy hills.
        You should not fight natural events but try to work with them,…somehow.
        Find some footage of the Cedar Fire, pretty much the same as the Valley Fire.

        • I was down there taking care of my great aunt about a year before that fire. I remember there were some trees on a slope on the south side of the highway, and maybe there were more I couldn’t see behind them. Not far to the east the desert starts in for real, and I remember a jot northwest of it was a semi-respectable expanse of grass, but the rest was pavement. So I’m thinking the fire must’ve been mostly south, or perhaps northeast of El Cajon.

          My memory of it is vivid because it horrified me, made me dream my little cabin in the redwoods was being turned into a shopping center.

          But, yessir, the fuels loading in Lake County, particularly where this fire is, has been beyond the beyond for decades and scaring me for all that time.

          I was on the verge of becoming something like solvent back in the 90s and was on the phone with a bunch of guys at CDF about ways to start a fuels CHIPPING business, but a series of minor and major personal disasters pretty much wiped me out before I could really get into it.

        • Actually, I know that sounds daffy to anyone who knows what’s what, but I was getting it worked out so that it could be a nonprofit that paid for its workers and equipment… and produced my special worm dirt most excellent. Northern California may never know how close to bulletproof perfect it almost became! 🙂

        • Totally disagree with silver linings approach I think there misguided efforts or why were in the position were in this year. what do they have against people working in the woods what really is their problem.thin the forest [edit]

          • I think thinning is the right approach in fuels-loaded mixed species forests. Only problem is getting people to agree on what’s done for the environment and what’s done for profit… what helps and what hurts.

            The soils are in bad shape where there’s been too much logging or where there’s been too much fire. So most of what’s thinned needs to be left on the ground to protect from erosion and to add nutrients to the soil.

            The terrain makes it pretty hard to do everywhere it’s needed, but there are lots of places that the cut stuff could be hauled up to a chipper and blown back down into the forest.

            Lots of places they will go to get a merch tree and either drag it up with a chain or get a helicopter to lift it out. So we CAN use the same technologies to turn the fuels into mulch or at LEAST knock them down so nature can turn them into mulch.

            Nobody seems to grok how the forest canopy makes the rain to water itself. They don’t teach it out of forestry school, I don’t think. So, yes, thin the crap out of the forest and turn it into mulch to hold the moisture in. Except in some precious spots, most of our forests are too damn dry and way unhealthy.

            Any time a plant is sick, instead of all the chemicals and toxins, just dump a lot of compost on it and soon you find your plant is not sick anymore, whatever critters were eating it up are gone and everything’s healthy and happy and conflagration-resistant again.

      • The Cedar Fire was largely fueled by brush and timber, it didn’t “just burn through houses”. Take a look at this photo, which is not atypical of what happened during the Cedar incident:

  • No matter how these fires started.they are devastating to all of us.We won’t know just how much for years to come.Its amazing to me how Mother nature works.Thanks kym for this story,it’s hard to tell us the damage done till its all over,but thank you so much for your great work!!

  • I am so thankful for your in-depth reporting and analysis, Kym. It is the best.

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