Six of California’s largest fires in history ignited this year. Here’s what we know

A home smolders in ruins in the aftermath of the Bear fire in Brush Creek
A home smolders in ruins in the aftermath of the Bear fire in Brush Creek.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Underscoring how rising temperatures are fueling bigger, more destructive fires, six of the top 20 blazes ever in California have occurred this year.

A new record fire

On Thursday, the August Complex fire officially became the largest blaze in California history, burning more than 471,000 acres. Since then, authorities have grouped it with other fires, bringing its official acreage to more than 746,000 acres. The overall complex is only 25% contained.


The August Complex started as more than 30 separate fires in the Mendocino National Forest caused by lightning. It is burning in Glenn, Mendocino, Lake, Tehama and Trinity counties.

Two other fires in the month of August have also made their way into the record books. The SCU Complex fire east of the Bay Area is now No. 3 at 396,000 acres, and the North Bay LNU fire is No. 4 with 363,000 acres burned.

Huge, but relatively few confirmed fatalities

The August Complex and the the 2018 Mendocino Complex fire, which burned more than 459,000 acres back in 2018, are now the state’s biggest.

But both burned in remote areas and caused relatively few losses to life and property. The August fire has destroyed 26 structures and killed one person.

Largest fires in California history:

August Complex: 471,185

Mendocino Complex (2018): 459,123

SCU Lightning Complex: 396,624

LNU Lightning Complex: 363,220

Thomas (2017): 281,893

Cedar (2013): 273,246

Rush (2012): 271,911

Rim (2013) 257,314

Death toll

By far the deadliest fire occurred in Paradise in 2018.

But the North Complex fire in Butte County, which includes the Bear fire, is shaping up to join the list of the deadliest, and one of the biggest, blazes in state history. As of Friday morning, it had burned 252,534 acres, with 10 deaths confirmed and more than a dozen people still missing. It burned into tiny mountain hamlets, destroying many structures.

Here is a list of the deadliest fires in California history:

1. CAMP FIRE | November 2018 | Butte County | 85 (deaths)
2. GRIFFITH PARK October 1933 | Los Angeles | 29
3 TUNNEL | October 1991 | Oakland | 25
4 TUBBS | October 2017 | Napa, Sonoma, Lake | 22
5 CEDAR |October 2003 | San Diego |15
6 RATTLESNAKE | July 1953 | Glenn | 15
7 LOOP | November 1966 | Los Angeles | 12
8 HAUSER CREEK October 1943 | San Diego | 11
9 INAJA | November 1956 | San Diego | 11
10 IRON ALPS COMPLEX | August 2008 | Trinity | 10