As far as our recorded history goes, California has been one of the nation’s prime spots for wildfires. Almost every year, the golden state experiences major wildfires in many different areas that cause devastation to local communities and the environment.
Tragically, these fires often cause the displacement of locals from their homes and communities due to the extreme heat, the destruction of their properties, and the poor air quality; among other reasons. Without the heroic efforts of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the repercussions would exacerbate to extreme levels.
The major drought conditions, mixed with rising temperatures and dry vegetation are all typical causes of wildfires in California. However, with the recent impact of climate change being added into the equation, the yearly fire season has gotten exacerbated and prolonged.
After reviewing wildfire records going back to the early 1800s, we have found that the 7 largest wildfires in California’s long history have all happened within the last 4 years. Which just shows you the rapid changes we’re starting to see from all the aforementioned causes.
Here are the 7 largest wildfires that have ever taken place in California’s history with some information on how they started and how the state has or still is dealing with them:
The August Complex Fire [August 2020]
A thunderstorm in mid-August 2020 brought severe lightning strikes all around California. Unfortunately, 38 separate fires in the northern region of California grew substantially and merged to form the largest fire complex in California history.
Firefighters were finally able to extinguish this massive fire by November 12, 2020, after burning a total of 1,032,648 acres; or roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island.
- 1 Firefighter was killed and 2 others were injured.
- 0 civilian fatalities.
- 935 structures destroyed.
The Dixie Fire [July 2021]
Also in northern California, and about a year later starting on July 13, 2021, the Dixie Fire was the largest single fire in California history, and the second largest overall after the August Complex Fire. Some reports indicated that the fire may have been ignited by equipment owned by PG&E, opening the door for massive lawsuits in the following months and years.
It was 100% contained by October 25, 2021, after burning an area totaling 963,309 acres.
- 1 Firefighter died due to Covid-19 Illness contracted during the suppression efforts.
- 3 Firefighters injured.
- 1,329 structures destroyed.
The Mendocino Complex Fire [July 2018]
First reported on July 27, 2018 and the oldest fire on our list, the Mendocino Complex Fire consisted of two separate vegetation fires: the River Fire and Ranch Fire.
The two fires burned a combined total of 459,123 acres before they were fully extinguished by January 4, 2019.
- 1 Firefighter killed.
- 4 Firefighters injured.
- 280 structures destroyed.
The Santa Clara Unit Lightning Complex Fire [August 2021]
Taking place in the Diablo Range in the pacific coast of northern California, the SCU Lightning Complex Fire as it came to be known started in three different zones on August 16, 2021.
Collectively, they burned a total of 393,624 acres before the complex fire was fully contained on October 1, 2021.
- 6 non-fatal injuries.
- 0 fatalities recorded.
- 222 structures destroyed.
The Creek Fire [September 2020]
Taking place in the Big Creek drainage area between Shaver Lake and Huntington Lake, California, the Creek Fire was one of the largest fires of the 2020 California Fire Season. Continued wildfires of this scale have not been seen since the 1920s.
The fire began on September 4th, 2020, and burned a total of 379,895 acres before it was fully contained by Christmas Eve on December 24, 2020.
- 14 Firefighters injured.
- 12 campers injured.
- 0 fatalities recorded.
- 856 structures destroyed.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire [August 2020]
The Sonoma–Lake–Napa Unit Fire, or LNU Lightning Complex Fire as it was more commonly known, started on August 16 2020 due to a thunderstorm that brought lightning strikes on much of the Wine Country area of Northern California.
The thunderstorms produced over 10,000 lightning strikes that started over 350 fires simultaneously across the state.
Firefighters fought hard to bring the fire under control and were able to fully extinguish it by October 2nd, 2020; after burning a total area of 363,220 acres.
- 6 people killed.
- 5 people injured.
- 1,491 structures destroyed.
The North Complex Fire [August 2020]
Another lightning-caused fire that burned through the Plumas national forest in Northern California, The North Complex Fire was the result of 21 fires sparked by lightning on August 17, 2020.
After a few months of really hard work, The North Complex Fire was declared fully contained on December 3 of the same year; after burning a total area of 318,935 acres.
- 16 people killed.
- 100+ people injured.
- 2,455 structures destroyed.