It’s Official: We Have Our First Ever ‘Gigafire’ in Northern California

Photo: Pacific Southwest Forest Service, USDA

It was just two years ago that the Mendocino Complex Fire burned nearly 460,000 acres through four counties, becoming California’s largest fire ever and nearly doubling the area burned by the second largest fire. Now, we have a fire in Northern California that dwarfs all other fires ever recorded and it has officially surpassed a millions acres burned.

The August Complex Fire is now what is known as a “gigafire,” a very rare designation for wildfires that surpass a million acres burned. The fires has burned through 7 counties and destroyed 199 structures on its way to historic proportions. The fire is so massive that it’s been divided into four zones – Northwest, Northeast, South and West – in order for fire officials to divvy up resources. It currently sits at 1,0006,140 acres burned with 58 percent containment.

This fire season has been especially historic throughout California, as we’ve seen five of the top six largest fires in the state’s history. Here’s a list of the biggest fires ever in California, all sitting in NorCal:

While the term “gigafire” hasn’t been used in the United States in over a decade, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a million acre fire in the country. The most recent gigafire in the U.S. was the Taylor Complex in Alaska, which scorched about 1.3 million acres in 2004. The Yellowstone Fire in Montana and Idaho burned about 1.58 million acres in 1988.

The fact that the Northern California wildfires of 2020 have dwarfed even the devastating and destructive fires of 2018 is quite shocking. Of course, the Camp Fire in Butte County in was by far the deadliest (85 deaths) and most destructive (18,804 structures destroyed) we’ve seen. But if history is any indication, fire season may just be getting started in NorCal, with the most destructive fires typically being seen in October and November.

Be safe and vigilant, Northern California.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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