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In 2020 the United States experienced 275 significant wildfires that killed 37 people. However, since the 1980s the country has experienced 70,296 total fires of varying severity per year on average. Together, these wildfires have damaged 199 million acres of property and have cost the government $40.8 billion to fight.
While wildfire fatalities haven't increased in the last decade, data suggests that the cost of fighting wildfires is rising. The number of acres burned by wildfires per year has also been increasing since the government started tracking figures in 1983. As wildfires get stronger, it becomes more important for homeowners to understand how their insurance covers wildfires — and how wildfires can affect the cost of home insurance.
Wildfire statistics by state
Since 2016 306,818 wildfires have burned 39.2 million acres across the country. Wildfires have done the most damage in California during this time. In that state, 43,588 wildfires burned more than 8 million acres from 2016 to 2020.
Close behind California, Texas experienced 43,273 wildfires. Texas wildfires burned 2.1 million acres — 73% less than California. Still, Texas and California were two of 12 states where wildfires consumed at least 1 million acres from 2016 to 2020. By comparison, wildfires destroyed an average of 784,586 acres per state during this time period.
Totals are from 2016 to 2020. States are ordered by total acres burned.
Significant wildfires by state
Over the last 10 years, Texas has experienced the most serious wildfires of any state. From 2011 to 2020 there were 572 separate wildfires in Texas that resulted in the death or serious injury of at least one person or resulted in property damage. While there are tens of thousands of fires per year, only a fraction of them fit the National Weather Service's definition of a significant wildfire.
The National Weather Service tracked at least one wildfire in 48 states. During this time period, the only states that did not see at least one significant wildfire were Rhode Island and Vermont. Maine, Delaware, New Hampshire and Connecticut — all New England states — had fewer than five serious wildfires from 2011 to 2020.
Number of wildfires
Table displays count of fires deemed significant by the National Weather Service, which means they resulted in at least one fatality or injury or caused property damage.
Wildfire statistics by acres burned
In 1983 the federal wildlife agencies began tracking the number of fires that occurred and the damage they caused. Since 1983 the National Interagency Fire Center shows that there have been a total of 2.7 million wildfires ranging in severity. These fires have combined to burn 199 million acres, or 5.2 million per year since data has been tracked. A total of 10.1 million acres were burned in both 2015 and 2020, the most destructive years for fire damage.
Since 1983 there have been 70,296 wildfires per year on average, according to federal interagency reports.
The number of acres destroyed by wildfires has increased since authorities began tracking fires and damage. Since 1983 each single wildfire destroyed 74 acres on average. The number of acres burned by each fire increased from 73 in 1983 to 172 in 2020. In 1998 fires destroyed just 16 acres per wildfire, making it the least destructive year since the government started keeping records.
Average cost of a wildfire
Since 1985 the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service have spent $1.1 billion per year on fighting wildfires — a total of $41 billion. This amounts to $15,498 for every fire. The average cost of fighting wildfires has gone up substantially since 1985. The government spent $2,905 per wildfire in 1985, while expenses grew by 1,228% to $38,575 per fire in 2020.
At the same time, 2020 wasn't the most expensive year for wildfires. In 2018 authorities spent $3.1 billion fighting wildfires, for a cost of $54,117 per fire. This is an increase of 1,763% from 1985 and 2,193% from 1986, when authorities only spent $2,360 per wildfire on suppression efforts.
From 2011 to 2020 authorities spent at least $1.3 billion on fighting wildfires per year — an average of $32,786 per fire.
Cost per fire
Total costs reflect money spent by the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior.
Wildfire property damage by state
The U.S. Forest Service provides detailed housing information that projects the number of housing units in danger of direct damage from wildfires. Combining this data with the median value of homes in the areas most at risk reveals that there is an estimated $575 billion worth of housing directly exposed to wildfires.
In California, there are more than 2.3 million homes directly exposed to wildfire danger, with an estimated value of $343 billion. However, there are more homes directly exposed to wildfires in Texas and Florida, though the median value of a home in the areas most at risk of fires in those states is lower than in California.
Value at risk
Homes directly exposed
Table shows states with counties where potential for burning is greater than 1 in 1,000, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Wildfire property damage statistics by county
The county with the most housing units directly exposed to wildfire damage is Riverside County, California, where more than 203,000 homes face the highest risk of fires. Riverside is behind San Diego County, California, in terms of the value of housing units directly exposed to wildfires. In fact, the combined value of the homes in the greatest danger of wildfires in San Diego County is 56% higher than in Riverside County.
Six of the 10 counties where the combined value of directly exposed homes is greater than $10 billion are in California.
County and state
Value at risk
Homes directly at risk
|1||San Diego County, California||$111,119,739,052||197,126|
|2||Riverside County, California||$71,236,303,416||203,474|
|3||San Bernardino County, California||$55,956,614,567||170,495|
|4||Ada County, Idaho||$43,000,348,738||67,877|
|5||Ventura County, California||$34,123,320,090||57,993|
|6||El Dorado County, California||$19,382,702,427||42,054|
|7||Nevada County, California||$11,867,326,831||27,534|
|8||Yavapai County, Arizona||$11,478,674,592||45,550|
|9||Washington County, Utah||$11,323,663,748||26,968|
|10||Benton County, Arkansas||$11,207,813,887||61,111|
|11||Shasta County, California||$8,679,500,973||34,402|
|12||Washington County, Arkansas||$7,721,797,474||44,532|
Table shows counties where potential for burning is greater than 1 in 1,000, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Sorted by value at risk.
Wildfire fatalities statistics
Since 2011 there have been a total of 270 people killed by wildfires. Compared to the total number of wildfires that take place every year and the number of acres that fires burn, relatively few people lose their lives: Jjust seven states experienced five or more fatalities from wildfires during this time period.
Nationally, the most people were killed by wildfires in 2018. That year, California experienced its deadliest wildfire season to date. Consequently, California saw the greatest loss of life from wildfires from 2011 to 2020. It was the only state where more than 100 people were killed by wildfires — nearly nine times more than in Arizona, which experienced the next-highest number of wildfire fatalities.
Source: National Centers for Environmental Information.
California wildfire statistics
California sees frequent and particularly strong wildfires. Since 2016 alone it has experienced more than 43,500 wildfires, which burned 8 million acres. During this time 40,945 of these fires were caused by humans, resulting in 5.5 million acres burned.
Based on estimates from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Forest Service, the value of the homes directly exposed to wildfires in California equates to $343 billion — the highest in the country. Because of this, residents may find it difficult to get affordable homeowners insurance if they live in an area where insurers have declined to offer coverage, and they may have to settle for a high-risk insurance policy.
How wildfires affect home insurance
While homeowners insurance covers fire damage, residents living in areas that experience wildfires may see higher rates than a typical homeowner. Additionally, it's likely that after a wildfire the cost of homeowners insurance will go up drastically for those whose homes are destroyed by wildfires.
Based on an analysis of homes in the states that experienced at least 100 significant wildfires from 2011 to 2020, ValuePenguin found that one wildfire can increase the cost of home insurance coverage by 24%. While California is the state most commonly associated with wildfires, homeowners in Idaho actually face the largest average premium increase after a wildfire — a rate increase equal to 41% of the prefire cost of home insurance.
Residents living in regions that experience a high number of wildfires per year may have trouble getting cheap homeowners insurance coverage, or getting covered at all. If insurance providers decline to sell coverage to a particular area due to its history of wildfires, residents may have the option of getting high-risk home insurance coverage, also called Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plans. These plans are partially taxpayer-funded and are only available to people who have been denied coverage elsewhere.
Average annual cost
Average with claim
Analysis only includes states that experienced at least 100 or more significant fires from 2010 to 2020.
This study combines data from the U.S. Forest Service, the Census Bureau, the National Interagency Fire Center, the National Weather Service and the National Centers for Environmental Information. For insurance rates, ValuePenguin gathered quotes for a sample home insured for the state's median home value and constructed in the state's median build year. The claim made for a fire reflected this median value.
ValuePenguin's analysis used insurance rate data from Quadrant Information Services. These rates were publicly sourced from insurer filings and should be used for comparative purposes only — your own quotes may be different.