There were more than 67,000 wildfires across the United States last year. The fires burned over 5.5 million acres, a landmass roughly the size of the state of New Hampshire. This was not even a particularly bad year for wildfires. In 2015, when severe drought in the West created conditions favorable to conditions, over 10 million acres burned.
Wildfires are far more common in the United States than many people realize. According to data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center, a group of connected federal agencies that monitor wildfires, every state in the country except for Delaware had at least one unplanned forest fire in 2016.
> Area burned, wildfires 2007-2016: 0.1%
> Wildfire damage 2007-2016 : 20,069 acres (9th fewest)
> 2016 Wildfires: 196 (13th fewest)
> Planned burns 2007-2016: 7,467 acres (9th fewest)
> Large (100k+ acre) fires since 1997: none
While fires can and do occur anywhere there are trees, they are much more common and much more destructive in some parts of the country, particularly in sparsely populated states. In Alaska, more than 12 million acres have burned over the last 10 years, more than the total burned acreage in 38 other states combined. The 6.9 million acres burned in Idaho due to wildfires from 2007 through 2016 is equal to about 13% of the total landmass of the state.
Fires can occur anywhere, anytime — but certain conditions can drastically increase the likelihood of both the occurrence of fires and how easily they spread. Drought, for example, dries out flammable flora, significantly increasing the risk of a forest fire.
States on the west coast are only now recovering from prolonged drought conditions. The four states most affected by forest fires over the past decade are western states that were experiencing drought conditions: Idaho, Oregon, California, and Washington.
As is intuitive, larger states tend to have larger areas burned due to wildfire. All but two of the 20 states that had the most acres burned due to wildfire over the past decade are also among the 20 largest states.
However, even when controlling for size, larger states tend to have greater issues with fire. Among the 14 states where at least 2% of their total area has burned over the past decade, only three are not among the 14 largest states overall. It is likely that because these larger states also tend to be less densely populated it makes it harder for people to fight wildfires effectively.
To determine the states with the most wildfires, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the National Interagency Fire Center’s Fire and Aviation Management Web Applications Program. The figures are the sum totals of all wildfires reported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other land management departments from 2007 to 2016. The number of large fires refers to the number of fires that burned more than 100,000 acres of land, and also came from the NIFC. The percentage of land burned by wildfires from 2007 to 2016 was calculated by dividing the total acreage burned by wildfires over that period by the total land area of a state, with data from the U.S. Census Bureau that was converted from square miles to acres.