This is a partial and incomplete list of California wildfires. California has dry, windy, and often hot weather conditions from spring through late autumn that can produce moderate to severe wildfires. Pre-1800, when the area was much more forested and the ecology much more resilient, 4.4 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of forest and shrubland burned annually. California land area totals 99,813,760 or roughly 100 million acres, so since 2000, the area that burned annually has ranged between 90,000 acres, or 0.09%, and 1,590,000 acres, or 1.59% of the total land of California. During the 2020 wildfire season alone, over 8,100 fires contributed to the burning of nearly 4.5 million acres of land.
Wildfires in California are growing more dangerous because of the accumulation of wood fuel in forests, higher population and greater electricity transmission and distribution lines. United States taxpayers pay about US$3 billion a year to fight wildfires, and big fires can lead to billions of dollars in property losses. At times, these wildfires are fanned or made worse by strong, dry winds, known as Diablo winds when they occur in the northern part of the state and Santa Ana winds when they occur in the south. However, from a historical perspective, it has been estimated that prior to 1850, about 4.5 million acres (17,000 km²) burned yearly, in fires that lasted for months, with wildfire activity peaking roughly every 30 years, when up to 11.8 million acres (47,753 km³) of land burned. The much larger wildfire seasons in the past can be attributed to the policy of Native Californians regularly setting controlled burns and allowing natural fires to run their course, which prevented devastating wildfires from overrunning the state.
More than 350,000 people in California live in towns sited completely within zones deemed to be at very high risk of fire. In total, more than 2.7 million people live in "very high fire hazard severity zones", which also include areas at lesser risk.
On lands under CAL FIRE's jurisdictional protection (i.e. not federal or local responsibility areas), the majority of wildfire ignitions since 1980 have been caused by humans. The four most common ignition sources for wildfires on CAL FIRE-protected lands are, in order: equipment use, powerlines, arson, and lightning.
Starting in 2001, the National Interagency Fire Center began keeping more accurate records on the total fire acreage burned in each state.
A 2015 study addressed whether the increase in fire risk in California is attributable to climate change.
The 20 largest wildfires according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
|1.||August Complex||Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Tehama, Trinity, Shasta||1,032,648||417,898||August 2020||935||1|
|2.||Dixie||Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, Tehama||963,309||389,837||July 2021||1,329||1||Largest single source wildfire in California history|
|3.||Mendocino Complex||Mendocino, Lake, Colusa, Glenn||459,123||185,800||July 2018||280||1|
|4.||SCU Lightning Complex||Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced, Stanislaus||396,624||160,508||August 2020||222||0|
|5.||Creek||Fresno, Madera||379,895||153,738||September 2020||856||0|
|6.||LNU Lightning Complex||Colusa, Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo||363,220||146,990||August 2020||1,491||6|
|7.||North Complex||Plumas, Butte||318,935||129,068||August 2020||2,352||15|
|8.||Santiago Canyon||Orange, Riverside, San Diego||300,000||120,000||September 1889||0||0||The fire dates before 1932, when reliable fire records began.|
|9.||Thomas||Ventura, Santa Barbara||281,893||114,078||December 2017||1,063||23||Fatalities (2 direct, 21 indirect) attributed to the fire include 1 firefighter and 1 civilian directly, 22 deaths in later mudslides, with 1 never recovered.|
|10.||Cedar||San Diego||273,246||110,579||October 2003||2,820||15|
|11.||Rush||Lassen||271,911||110,038||August 2012||0||0||This fire burned an additional 43,666 acres (17,671.0 ha) in Nevada, for a total of 315,577 acres (127,709.5 ha).|
|13.||Zaca||Santa Barbara||240,207||97,208||July 2007||1||0|
|14.||Carr||Shasta, Trinity||229,651||92,936||July 2018||1,614||8|
|16.||Caldor||El Dorado, Amador, Alpine||221,835||89,773||August 2021||1,003||1|
|18.||River Complex||Siskiyou, Trinity||199,343||80,671||July 2021||122||0|
|19.||Witch||San Diego||197,990||80,120||October 2007||1,650||2|
|20.||Klamath Theater Complex||Siskiyou||192,038||77,715||June 2008||0||2|
The 20 deadliest wildfires according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
|1.||Camp||Butte||153,336||62,050||November 2018||18,804||85||51 identified from Paradise, 11 from Magalia, 7 from Concow, 1 from Chico, remaining not publicly identified as of February 2019|
|2.||Griffith Park||Los Angeles||47||19||October 1933||0||29||Deaths were RFC workers fighting the fire|
|4.||Thomas||Ventura, Santa Barbara||281,893||114,078||December 2017||1,063||23||Fatalities (2 direct, 21 indirect) attributed to the fire include 1 firefighter and 1 civilian directly, 22 deaths in later mudslides, with 1 never recovered.|
|5.||Tubbs||Napa, Sonoma||36,807||14,895||October 2017||5,643||22|
|6.||North Complex||Plumas, Butte||318,935||129,068||August 2020||2,352||15|
|7.||Cedar||San Diego||273,246||110,579||October 2003||2,820||15|
|8.||Rattlesnake||Glenn||1,340||540||July 1953||0||15||All deaths were firefighters trying to outrun the fire|
|9.||Loop||Los Angeles||2,028||821||November 1966||0||12||All deaths were members of the El Cariso Hotshots|
|10||Hauser Creek||San Diego||13,145||5,320||October 1943||0||11|
|11.||Inaja||San Diego||43,904||17,767||November 1956||0||11|
|12.||Iron Alps Complex||Trinity||105,855||42,838||August 2008||10||10|
|13.||Redwood Valley||Mendocino||36,523||14,780||October 2017||544||9|
|14.||Harris||San Diego||90,440||36,600||October 2007||548||8|
|15.||Canyon||Los Angeles||22,197||8,983||August 1968||0||8|
|16.||Carr||Shasta, Trinity||229,651||92,936||July 2018||1,614||8|
|17.||LNU Lightning Complex||Colusa, Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo||363,220||146,990||August 2020||1,491||6|
|18.||Atlas||Napa, Solano||51,624||20,891||October 2017||781||6|
|19.||Old||San Bernardino||91,281||36,940||October 2003||1,003||6|
The 20 most destructive wildfires according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
|1.||Camp||Butte||153,336||62,050||November 2018||18,804||85||Town of Paradise destroyed|
|2.||Tubbs||Napa, Sonoma||36,807||14,895||October 2017||5,643||22|
|4.||Cedar||San Diego||273,246||110,579||October 2003||2,820||15|
|5.||North Complex||Plumas, Butte||318,935||129,068||August 2020||2,352||15||Towns of Berry Creek and Feather Falls mostly destroyed|
|6.||Valley||Lake, Napa, Sonoma||76,067||30,783||September 2015||1,955||4|
|7.||Witch||San Diego||197,990||80,120||October 2007||1,650||2|
|8.||Woolsey||Ventura, Los Angeles||96,949||39,234||November 2018||1,643||3|
|9.||Carr||Shasta, Trinity||229,651||92,936||July 2018||1,614||8|
|10.||Glass||Napa, Sonoma||67,484||27,310||September 2020||1,520||0|
|11.||LNU Lightning Complex||Colusa, Lake, Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Yolo||363,220||146,990||August 2020||1,491||6|
|12.||CZU Lightning Complex||Santa Cruz, San Mateo||86,509||35,009||August 2020||1,490||1|
|14.||Dixie||Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Shasta, Tehama||963,309||389,837||July 2021||1,329||1||Town of Greenville mostly destroyed|
|15.||Thomas||Ventura, Santa Barbara||281,893||114,078||December 2017||1,063||23||2 direct, 22 indirect deaths were caused by the Montecito mudslides|
|16.||Caldor||El Dorado, Amador, Alpine||221,835||89,773||August 2021||1,003||1||Town of Grizzly Flats mostly destroyed|
|17.||Old||San Bernardino||91,281||36,940||October 2003||1,003||6|
|18.||Butte||Amador, Calaveras||70,868||28,679||September 2015||965||2|
|20.||August Complex||Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Tehama, Trinity, Shasta||1,032,649||417,898||August 2020||935||1|
In some parts of California, fires can recur in areas with histories of fires. In Oakland, for example, fires of various size and ignition occurred in 1923, 1931, 1933, 1937, 1946, 1955, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1970, 1980, 1990, 1991, 1995, 2002, and 2008. Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Los Angeles County are other examples. Orange and San Bernardino counties share a border that runs north to south through the Chino Hills State Park, with the park's landscape ranging from large green coastal sage scrub, grassland, and woodland, to areas of brown sparsely dense vegetation made drier by droughts or hot summers. The valley's grass and barren land can become easily susceptible to dry spells and drought, therefore making it a prime spot for brush fires and conflagrations, many of which have occurred since 1914. Hills and canyons have seen brush or wildfires in 1914, the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and into today.
On occasion, lightning strikes from thunderstorms may also spark wildfires in areas that have seen past ignition. Examples of this are the 1999 Megram Fire, the 2008 California wildfires., as well as both the LNU and SCU Lightning Complex fires of 2020.
area burned annually in California varied from 1,814,614 to 4,838,293 ha (excluding the desert region in Southeastern California) during the prehistoric period. With the land area of California equaling 40,396,822 ha (CCDB, 2003), this results in 4.5–12.0% of the state's lands burning annually
Before the Gold Rush in 1849, large parts of California burned every few decades. Lightning fires burned for months, and native tribes burned the land, clearing out dead vegetation. ... Stephens, the UC fire scientist, estimates that before the Gold Rush, roughly 4.5 million acres a year in California burned. By the 1950s and 1960s, that was down to about 250,000 acres a year.