Based on History, the Worst of Northern California’s Fire Season is on the Horizon

The Dixie Fire burned nearly a million acre in 2021

Compared to the past five fire seasons, this year has been relatively tame in terms of wildfire. The McKinney Fire caused the most damage so far this year, and Yosemite has seen its fair share of fire damage this summer. On the whole, we’ve been lucky we haven’t had the “big one” yet in Northern California, but the worst could be on the horizon.

Historically, the biggest and most destructive fires in California happen after September 1. In fact, nine of the top ten most destructive fires in California’s history have occurred from September to December. This is due to the long drying period over the summer months creating more dangerous fuel sources in forested areas. The only exception to the list was 2018’s devastating Carr Fire, which started in July (North Complex started in August, but saw its most destruction in September).

Most notably, 2017’s Tubbs Fire in Sonoma started on October 8 and burned 5,643 structures, including 22 fatalities. It was the most destructive fire in California’s history, that is until the Camp Fire began just over a year later on November 8, 2018. That fire destroyed 18,804 buildings and took 85 lives.

Here are the other notable NorCal fires that made the top ten in destructive California fires:

  • Tunnel Fire – Alameda County – 2,900 structures destroyed in October 1991
  • Valley Fire – Lake County – 1,955 structures destroyed in September 2015
  • Nunns Fire – Sonoma County – 1,355 structures destroyed in October 2017
  • Jones Fire – Shasta County – 954 structures destroyed in October 1999

The larger fires (in acreage) in California’s history typically occur between July and August, but it’s the fires in the fall months that see the most structure damage. In spring, it seemed we may be able to avoid another devastating fire season. But without any significant precipitation in the following weeks, we may just be seeing a delay of the inevitable.

Be safe. Stay vigilant. Remember, fire season is far from over.

Active NorCal

Northern California's Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine

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