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Worst fires in California history: Dixie, Camp and more

A vehicle burns in front of trees and structures on fire at night
Flames consume vehicles as the Dixie fire tears through the Indian Falls community in Plumas County, Calif., on July 24.
(Noah Berger / Associated Press)

The Dixie fire currently burning through Northern California has already consumed more than 700,000 acres becoming the second-largest fire in state history.

With fire season far from over and much of the state in a drought, officials are warning that this year’s fires could end up competing with last year’s record-breaking season.

Biggest fires

Last year, California recorded its largest fire season ever. Five of the 10 largest wildfires in state history occurred in 2020, including the August Complex fire, which tops the list as the first California wildfire to burn over 1 million acres. It remains to be seen whether the Dixie fire will end up in that range, but as of Aug. 24 here’s where it stands in comparison to the state’s largest fires.

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Large swaths of California are primed for fire due to years of drought. Hotter summer months combined with low precipitation have led to bigger fires than ever before.

Destructive fires

As fires get bigger, the potential for property loss and destruction grows too. The Dixie fire has risen to be the 14th-most destructive fire in California, destroying 1,262 structures as of Aug. 24.

At the top of the most destructive fires in state history sits the Camp fire, which destroyed 18,804 buildings and devastated the town of Paradise in 2018. Its disastrous spread was attributed to high winds sending embers to find dry vegetation and ignite structure after structure.

Heavy winds like the Santa Ana winds that strike in the fall dry out vegetation and can spread embers, turning small fires into large and destructive wildfires. With so many acres burned already, many fear the dangers to come later this season when these powerful winds combine with record dry conditions.

You can keep up with the latest wildfires using the Times’ live wildfire map. To find out if you live in an area at high risk of fires, look up your address here. To prepare for a fire near you, follow our wildfire safety guide.


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