Wildfire statistics: Which U.S. states have the most wildfires?

We analyzed 2021 wildfire data to find out which U.S. states have the most frequent and destructive wildfires.

Pat Howard 1600

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Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a senior editor and licensed home insurance agent at Policygenius, where he specializes in homeowners insurance. His work and expertise has been featured in MarketWatch, Real Simple, Fox Business, VentureBeat, This Old House, Investopedia, Fatherly, Lifehacker, Better Homes & Garden, Property Casualty 360, and elsewhere.

Updated February 23, 2022 | 6 min read

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Roughly 60,000 wildfires burn 8 million acres in the U.S. each year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). [1] While the total number of wildfires has gone down about 25% since a decade ago, they’re more destructive and deadly than ever. There are a couple of culprits for this. Our warming planet means earlier and shorter springs, and that means foliage and pine needles have more time to dry up and turn into wildfire fuel. The second reason is overdevelopment in the so-called wildland-urban interface. [2]

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The year 2020 was tumultuous on several levels — so much so that you may have forgotten that four of the five largest wildfires in California state history happened that year: August Complex, SCU Lightning Complex, LNU Lightning Complex, and Creek Fire. These fires combined to burn over 2 million acres and cost the state billions of dollars in property damage. 

Close to 90% of all wildfires are caused by humans, but lightning fires account for more than half of burned acreage each year. [3] There’s no greater evidence of this than 2020’s August Complex fire, a lightning strike wildfire that burned over 1 million acres.

Wildfire statistics by state

The state of California closed out 2021 with around 9,000 wildfires and over 2 million acres burned, nearly half of which were caused by July’s Dixie Fire — the second most destructive wildfire in state history. 

The state of Texas was second to California with about 5,576 fires, but it was Oregon that had one of the more brutal wildfire seasons to date. The Beaver State had 2,202 total fires — sixth most of any state — but they burned 828,777 acres, with some lasting multiple months.

Keep in mind that the number of fires and acreage burned may be a good indicator of wildfire activity in a particular state, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. In fact, most wildfires happen in undeveloped areas that have little impact on human communities.

For example, hundreds of thousands — and sometimes millions — of acres of land burn in Alaska on an annual basis, but most are burning on federal lands and don’t impact communities. Conversely, around 960,000 acres burn in California every year, but because it's so much more developed, wildfires cause billions more in damage.

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What are the most dangerous states for wildfires?

As mentioned, wildfire frequency and number of acres burned doesn’t always spell catastrophe. Many of the largest and most sweeping wildfires are often naturally caused and have a beneficial impact on the environment.

But wildfires can also have a devastating impact on human lives, development, and communities. For example, wildfires in Colorado burned 48,195 acres in 2021 — the 18th-most of any U.S. state. However, Colorado has the 3rd-most properties at high to extreme risk of wildfire damage. [4] While 2018’s Camp Fire in Northern California wasn’t even one of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history, it was by far the most costly. The Camp Fire burned around 150,000 acres, destroyed around 19,000 structures, and killed 85 people. [5]

Here are the 10 most dangerous states for wildfires based on the number of housing units at high to extreme risk of wildfire damage, according to Verisk Wildfire Analytics. 

1. California

Number of housing units: 13,680,100

Number of properties at risk: 2,040,600

Percentage of housing units at risk: 15%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: $14 billion (2017)

2. Texas

Number of housing units: 9,977,400

Number of properties at risk: 717,800

Percentage of housing units at risk: 7%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: $530 million (2011)

3. Colorado

Number of housing units: 2,212,900

Number of properties at risk: 373,900

Percentage of housing units at risk: 17%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: $450 million (2012)

4. Arizona

Number of housing units: 2,844,500

Number of properties at risk: 242,100

Percentage of housing units at risk: 9%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: $120 million (2002)

5. Idaho

Number of housing units: 667,800

Number of properties at risk: 175,000

Percentage of housing units at risk: 26%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: N/A 

6. Washington

Number of housing units: 2,885,700

Number of properties at risk: 155,500

Percentage of housing units at risk: 6%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: N/A

7. Oklahoma

Number of housing units: 1,664,400

Number of properties at risk: 153,400

Percentage of housing units at risk: 9%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: N/A

8. Oregon

Number of housing units: 1,675,600

Number of properties at risk: 147,500

Percentage of housing units at risk: 9%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: N/A

9. Montana

Number of housing units: 482,800

Number of properties at risk: 137,800

Percentage of housing units at risk: 29%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: N/A

10. Utah

Number of housing units: 979,700

Number of properties at risk: 136,000

Percentage of housing units at risk: 14%

Worst year for insured wildfire losses: N/A

Does homeowners insurance cover wildfires?

In most cases, yes, fire is listed as a covered peril in most standard homeowners insurance policies. This means if your home is damaged or destroyed by a wildfire or bushfire, your insurance can help cover the cost of rebuild expenses or property replacement. 

However, many insurance companies in wildfire-prone states — including California, Colorado, and Oregon — are no longer offering coverage in high-risk areas, making it difficult to obtain insurance for your home.

If you’re unable to find a policy, you have a couple of options. 

One is looking into fire insurance coverage with an excess and surplus insurer that specializes in covering specific risks that standard insurance companies won’t take on, including wildfires. Bear in mind that these types of insurers aren’t admitted with the state, meaning they don’t have to abide by the same rules and regulations as traditional companies. This has its benefits — such as filling in your much-needed coverage gap — but it also means the insurance company can charge you whatever it wants for potentially substandard coverage.

To be on the safe side, it may be smarter to purchase a Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan through your state. FAIR Plans are a type of last-resort homeowners insurance that provide fire and wind insurance for homes that aren’t insurable on the traditional insurance market.

In most states, FAIR Plans only cover damage to your home caused by fire, smoke, wind, lightning, and explosion perils, with an option to pay extra for vandalism coverage or replacement cost dwelling coverage. So the protection you’re getting isn’t as robust as with a  standard homeowners insurance policy. 

But that may change soon for California residents, thanks to new orders put forward by the state’s insurance commissioner. Going forward, California FAIR Plans may be required to offer the same coverages included in a standard homeowners insurance policy. 

Learn more about homeowners insurance and wildfire damage

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