2016 Wildfire Season Not Likely to Top Record-Setting 2015 Season
In 2015, the amount of area consumed by wildfires in the U.S. topped 10 million acres for the first time, recording an annual total of 10,125,149 acres burned according to the National Interagency Fire Center. By comparison, the average burned acreage per year over the previous 20 years (1995-2014) was 5,820,402 acres. As of October 21, 2016, there were 4,989,330 acres burned in the U.S. and the total number of wildfires so far in 2016 is about 26,000 fewer than the 20-year average of 76,429. It is clear that barring the most catastrophic wildfire event in recent history, the yearly totals for 2016 will probably be at or slightly below average in terms of number of fires and wildfire acreage, and will almost certainly fall well below the record set in 2015.
It is also clear that it does not require a record-setting year in order for wildfires to cause substantial property loss. The losses for individual fires so far in 2016 are not of the same magnitude as the 1,955 structures lost in the 2015 Valley Fire or the 921 structures destroyed in the September 2015 Butte Fire, but that provides little comfort to the homeowners who have experienced wildfire damage this year. The Erskine Fire burned 386 structures northeast of Bakersfield, California this past June and 318 structures were destroyed in the Blue Cut Fire north of San Bernardino in August.
Does this mean that the wildfire activity in 2015 was an anomaly that is unlikely to be repeated? The answer is most certainly no. In fact...seven of the previous 12 years (2004-2015) totaled more than 8 million acres burned.