Visualizing Four Decades Of US Wildfires

According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, four decades of U.S. wildfires have destroyed millions of acres, as visualized below.

Visualizing Four Decades Of US Wildfires 1

The extended wildfire season in North America is caused by a complex interaction of variables, including rising summer temperatures, unpredictable precipitation patterns, shifting land use, and—ironically—fire suppression techniques.

What do the numbers suggest, though? According to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, Pallavi Rao of Visual Capitalist illustrates the millions of acres that U.S. wildfires destroyed between 1983 and May 2024.

Visualizing Four Decades Of US Wildfires 2

2010 and 2015 Saw Record Land Burned by Wildfires

The graph makes it clear that, on average, American wildfires are burning far more land in the 2010s than they did in the 1980s. It’s interesting to note that, according to the World Economic Forum, there have been fewer fires overall since 2005, but the amount of acreage burned has increased, suggesting that wildfire severity has increased.

YearMillion Acres Burned
19831.3
19841.1
19852.9
19862.7
19872.4
19885.0
19891.8
19904.6
19913.0
19922.1
19931.8
19944.1
19951.8
19966.1
19972.9
19981.3
19995.7
20007.4
20013.6
20027.2
20034.0
2004*8.1
20058.7
20069.9
20079.3
20085.3
20095.9
20103.4
20118.7
20129.3
20134.3
20143.6
201510.1
20165.5
201710.0
20188.8
20194.7
202010.1
20217.1
20227.6
20232.7
2024**1.9
*Doesn’t include North Carolina data. **As of May 27, 2024.

For the first time since these records were kept, wildfires across the nation destroyed more than 10 million acres in 2015. A repetition occurred five years later as a result of four Californian fires that combined burned over 2.3 million acres in the state.

In contrast, the total area burned by wildfires in the United States in 2023 was only 2.7 million, the lowest amount since 1998. Unusually rainy summer conditions in California helped contain errant sparks before they became massive disasters.

Nevertheless, at least 100 people were killed in August when a destructive fire almost destroyed the historic town of Lahaina, Maui.

The 10-year annual average of 7.2 million acres has been surpassed by the 1.9 million acres that U.S. wildfires have scorched so far in 2024. Experts do, however, anticipate a hotter-than-normal summer and fall, with a rise in fire activity as the summer heats up.

Recently, GreatGameIndia reported that, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report for 2024, Bakersfield, CA, and Visalia, CA, top the list of the most polluted cities in the US.

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