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9 Worst Wildfires of This Decade

Wildfires are raging as global warming and climate change increase temperatures and dryness around the world. The past decade in particular has seen some devastating wildfires, underlining the importance, especially in the summer months, of fire safety when you’re outdoors.

Here is a roundup of some of the worst wildfires of the past decade.

2023 Maui Wildfires

Image by Crisserbug

One of the world’s deadliest wildfires on record, this fire burned across the smallest area but caused the most harm. The Maui fires stretched across Olinda, Kula, Lahaina, and Pulehu / Kihei in Hawaii. The Maui wildfires are still in the process of being contained. Updates are being issued through the county of Maui. Here’s how to help.

2023 Canadian Wildfires 

Image by Nick Fitzhardinge

This wildfire has burned the most space in Canada’s recorded history—about 4% of the entire forest area of Canada. It is the reason 2023 is considered the worst wildfire season in North America, even trumping the intense 2020 season.

  • Approx. area burned: 37,065,807 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: at least 50
  • Fatalities: 5
  • Month started: March

2021 Siberian Wildfires

Image by L Yagovy

In the city of Yakutsk, Russia, toxic smoke produced by the fires reduced air quality to levels of an “airpocalypse.” At the time, head of the Sakha republic, Aisen Nikolayev, blamed climate change for the fires, because there had been unusually low rainfall. Smoke originating from the Siberian wildfires was reported 1,200 miles away in Mongolia, and wildfire smoke reached the North Pole for the first time in recorded history.

  • Approx. area burned: 44,000,000 – 49,000,000 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: unknown
  • Fatalities: unknown
  • Month started: June

2020 California Wildfires

Image by Grant Faint

Numerous wildfires across California, Oregon, and Washington were stoked by strong winds and fueled by hot, dry conditions, resulting in record-breaking megafires in the 2020 western U.S. wildfire season. California’s August Complex fire was called the first “gigafire,” burning over an area larger than Rhode Island. The early months of 2020 were some of the driest recorded of any calendar year, and California was in a state of emergency as a result.

  • Approx. area burned: 4,304,379 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: 11,116
  • Fatalities: 33
  • Month started: July

2019 – 2020 Australian Bushfire Season

Image by Andrew Merry

The “Black Summer” was characterized by a disastrous megafire in southeast Australia that obliterated the continent for more than four weeks. A study estimated that 3 billion animals, the majority being reptiles and birds, were affected, comparable in tragedy only to the Alaskan and Gulf Oil spills. Economists called the bushfires Australia’s costliest natural disaster in history.

  • Approx. area burned: 16,000,000 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: 2,500-3,000 (possibly higher)
  • Fatalities: 34 direct, 445 indirect (smoke inhalation)
  • Month started: September

2019 Amazon Rainforest Wildfires

Image by Brasil2

Affecting Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru, this drastic fire was likely caused by illegal slash-and-burn deforestation tactics. The smoke was so thick that it hid the lights of São Paulo, Brazil from view, despite its proximity to the fires. This fire brought the Amazon’s health to a concerning place. The Amazon is a large carbon-dioxide sink, capturing up to 25% of global emissions. Without this sink, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would increase and contribute towards even higher global temperatures.

  • Approx. area burned: 2,240,000 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: N/A
  • Fatalities: 2
  • Month started: January

2019 Siberia Wildfires

Image by Toa55

The 2019 Siberia wildfires exceeded 3 million hectares, an area the size of Belgium, and drastically affected indigenous populations in Russia. Due to social media and heavy news coverage of the fires, legal regulations regarding forest protection and forest fires were re-evaluated.

  • Approx. area burned: 7,400,000 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: N/A
  • Fatalities: 2
  • Month started: July

2018 British Columbia Wildfires

Image by Mooneydriver

Caused by multiple factors, including lightning and humans, a total of 2,115 wildfires burned across British Columbia, Canada in 2018. The smoke spread across Canada and reached as far as Ireland. The largest fire was the Tweedsmuir Complex fire that singed 745,140 acres by itself.

  • Approx. area burned: 3,339,170 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: About 50
  • Fatalities: unknown
  • Month started: August

2018 California Wildfires

Image by Bloomberg Creative

Increased dead tree fuel and conditions influenced by global warming, including dryness, higher temperatures, and longer summers, led to one of the most destructive fires in history in California in 2018. The catastrophic Camp Fire alone killed 85 people, destroyed 18,804 buildings, and caused $16.5 billion in property damage, taking with it the town of Paradise. The total cost of the fire was $26 billion in 2018, making it the costliest global disaster on record.

  • Approx. area burned: 1,893,910 acres
  • Buildings destroyed: 24,226 structures damaged or destroyed
  • Fatalities: 97 civilians and 6 firefighters
  • Month started: February
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