Publication Date October 5, 2016 | High Country News

The 10 most expensive wildfires in the West’s history

United States
A crew assesses the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California. Photo: California National Guard
A crew assesses the Soberanes Fire south of Monterey, California. Photo: California National Guard

In July, an illegal campfire in Garrapata State Park ignited the most expensive fire in U.S. history. The Soberanes Fire on the Central Coast of California is currently burning over 132,000 acres, and is 100 percent contained after 83 days. In a remote, rugged area, the Soberanes was difficult for firefighters to reach, but it forced some communities to evacuate. It cost an estimated $260 million to fight – a large chunk of that paid for by the U.S. Forest Service.

Fighting fires now accounts for over half of the Forest Service’s budget; two decades ago, it consumed only about 16 percent. By the end of the fire season, 2015 became the costliest in history – $1.7 billion – and the agency expects the cost of fires to continue to climb in the future. With climate change, extended drought, and more people living in wildfire danger zones, fires burn twice as much land each year as they did 40 years ago, while the seasons are lasting longer and fighting fires is becoming more expensive.


Here is a list of the West’s 10 estimated costliest fires in history, compiled from NIFC report data and NIFC’s list of historically significant wildfires.


10. Station Fire

August 2009, California
Estimated cost: $92.5 million


9. Pioneer Fire

July 2016, Idaho
Estimated cost: $94 + million


8. King Fire

September 2014, California
Estimated cost: $102.5 million


7. Wallow Fire

May 2011, Arizona
Estimated cost: $109 million


6. Zaca Fire

July 2007, California
Estimated cost: $117 million


5. Yellowstone Fires

August 1988, Wyoming
Estimated cost: $120 million


4. Rough Fire

July 2015, California
Estimated cost: $121 million


3. Rim Fire

August 2013, California
Estimated cost: $127 million


2. Biscuit Fire

July 2002, Oregon
Estimated cost: $150 + million


1. Soberanes Fire

July 2016, California
Estimated cost: $260 + million