wildfire arson

16 Largest Arson Wildfires in the United States Have Destroyed Over 6500 Structures

Wildfire arson is the felony act of maliciously setting fire to wildlands or uncultivated land comprised of forest, brush or grassland, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Not only does wildfire arson destroy natural lands, but it devastates a significant number of buildings, homes and other property — in addition to taking lives of firefighters and residents.

Needless to say, wildfire arson is no small threat — six of the 20 most damaging wildfires in California (in terms of structures destroyed) were caused by arson. Georgia records an average of 700 arson fires destroying over 9,000 acres annually. And, over 240 wildfires were caused by arson in Florida between Jan. 1 and April 14, 2017 — up 70 percent from the year before.  

Of the 58 most destructive wildfires in U.S. history, 16 are confirmed arson fires — almost 28 percent. These devastating 16 fires destroyed almost 6,500 structures — homes, businesses, etc. They killed 50 people and burned nearly one million acres. Here are the most destructive confirmed arson fires (intentionally caused) in order of acres burned:

wildfire arson in the us

Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Arizona (2002): 467,000 acres, 426 structures

Old Fire, San Bernardino County, California (2003): 91,281 acres, 933 structures, 6 fatalities

Hayman Fire, Pike National Forest, Colorado (2002): 137,760 acres, 600 structures, 6 fatalities

Fountain Fire, California (1992): 63,960 acres, 636 structures

Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, Warm Springs, Oregon (2013): 50,000 acres

Panorama Fire, California (1980): 23,600 acres, 325 structures, 3 fatalities

Humboldt Fire, California (2008): 23,344 acres, 351 structures

Tompanga Fire, California (1993): 18,000 acres, 323 structures

Great Smoky Mountains Wildfires, Tennessee (2016): 17,904 acres, 2400 structures, 14 fatalities

Esperanza Fire, California (2006): 16,090 acres, 34 homes, five fatalities

Laguna Fire, California (1993): 14,437 acres, 441 structures

Paint Fire, California (1990): 4,900 acres, 641 structures, one fatality

Rattlesnake Fire, California (1953): 1,300 acres, 15 fatalities

Goshen Pass Brush Fire, Virginia (2017): 1,000 acres

Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri (2012): 622 acres

Rosa Fire, Riverside County, California (2007): 411 acres


Besides these cases of confirmed wildland arson, many other wildfires are still under investigation. Convicted arsonists face prison time, fines and even murder charges when lives are lost in the fire. No acts of arson are taken lightly — even a small-scale brush fire can take down homes and put lives in danger.

Not all human-caused wildfires are intentional. Between arson and careless mistakes, humans cause 84 percent of all wildfires throughout the United States and 44 percent of total area burned. In U.S. National Parks, 60 percent of fires are caused by humans, often from poorly extinguished campfires. Fire ecologist Jennifer Balch at University of Colorado – Boulder says that humans extend the U.S. wildfire season by three months.

National Arson Awareness Week 2017 is May 7-13. This year’s theme is “Prevent Wildfire Arson — Spread the Facts, Not the Fire.” Learn more about National Wildfire Awareness Week here.


Whether started by arson, lightning or human carelessness, wildfires quickly destroy both land and structures and put lives in danger. Understand the threat of wildfires for your properties with RZRisk.

summer 2017 fire outlook

Regional Wildfire Forecasts: April – July 2017

This year has resulted in above-average wildland fires throughout the United States, with over two million acres burned since Jan. 1, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. In contrast wildfires burned only 289 thousand acres by this time last year. The acres burned between Jan. 1 and March 27, 2017 is over 10x the decade’s average, as illustrated in the chart below:

Acreage burned in U.S.

Acreage burned in wildfires between January 1 and March 17 of each year

Drought combined with warm and windy conditions throughout the southeast U.S. and Southern Plains (particularly Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas) facilitated the majority of these wildfires. The following wildfire forecasts, broken down by region, comes from research from the National Interagency Fire Center.


Alaska: The outlook for Alaskan wildfires is normal through July. While the state has experienced dry conditions, cold winter temperatures have maintained snowpack and prevented heightened wildfires. Alaska will likely experience above-average temperatures throughout. Western Alaska should expect to see low precipitation, while central/eastern Alaska will experience normal precipitation through July.


Northwest: Normal wildfire activity is expected for Washington and Oregon through July. Temperatures in the majority of the region were below average throughout the winter. Snow accumulation in Washington and western Oregon is higher than in 2015 and 2016.


Northern California + Hawaii: Most of Northern California and Hawaii can expect an average wildfire outlook. The Big Island of Hawaii may experience slightly above-average fire activity. The most eastern portions of Northern California will have below average wildfire activity due to record snowfall in the area. Both Northern California and Hawaii will have average precipitation through July.


summer 2017 wildfire forecasts

Southern California: The significant wildfire and temperate forecasts for most of Southern California is normal. The Sierra Foothills may experience higher than average wildfire potential, and the High Sierras may experience lower than average wildfire potential through July. Lower and middle elevations will have lower than average precipitation.


Northern Rockies: The region is forecasted to have average large fire potential. Yellowstone National Park will have a lower wildfire outlook. Average precipitation is also expected. Mountain snowpack in the region has maintained late into the spring, helping to reduce wildfire risk.


Great Basin: Following increased precipitation through the winter, the Great Basin Region can expect normal wildfire outlook through July. Wildfires could be caused by an increased grass crop in the lower elevations, which may extend into higher elevations than normal. Temperatures through July will likely be above average, and precipitation will stay near average.


Southwest: The region is forecasted to have above average wildfire potential through July. The greatest fire potential is expected to travel northwest (from southwestern Texas to northwest of the Continental Divide) through June. The monsoon season is expected to begin either early or on-time during July.


Rocky Mountain: Normal wildfire potential is expected in the lower- and mid-elevations of the Rocky Mountains. Lower than average wildfire potential is expected in the high elevations due to a significant snowpack (except in the Black Hills of South Dakota). The entire region will experience average precipitation during the period. The south and west will experience above average temperatures, while the north and east will experience normal temperatures.


Northeast + Mideast: Average significant wildfires are forecasted for the eastern U.S. through July. The southern and coastal areas will experience above-average temperatures, while the inland areas will experience normal temperatures. The Great Lakes region will likely experience more precipitation than average, while the Mid-Atlantic region will experience less.


South / Southeast: The extreme wildfire events in Florida are expected to ease with the onset of the June rainy season. The region’s coastal areas will experience above normal significant fire potential. The more inland areas will experience a below-average large fire outlook. Besides South Florida, which has potential to have significant precipitation, the summer months will bring warmer and drier than average conditions are forecasted throughout the region.

Florida Wildfires Provide Big Start to 2017 Fire Season

Florida wildfires have already produced unprecedented statistics for the 2017 wildfire season. Spring is wildfire season for the region, but the acreage burned to date has far exceeded the past decade’s averages. Wildfires throughout the Southern Plains in early March made up much of the acreage when more than a million acres collectively burned. So far, almost 2.2 million acres have burned according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). In the past ten years, the annual average by April 13th is over four times lower at 434,696 acres.

Southern Area Fire Outlook

In their April 1st Outlook Report, NIFC’s Predictive Services attributed the uptick in activity to warmer and drier than normal conditions in several southern states. Florida especially has taken the brunt of the action of late with drought conditions persisting in the height of their fire season. Since February, prolonged fire activity has scorched 70,000+ acres there this spring with 19 structures collectively lost. Currently, there are 31 active wildfires over 100 acres and more than 100 fires statewide.

Florida Wildfires Prompt State of Emergency

Due to major fires currently burning and the fire potential related to the ongoing and forecasted dry conditions, a state of emergency was initiated on Tuesday (April 11th) by Florida Governor Rick Scott. Also, several Central Florida counties have implemented burn bans to prevent future starts as humans have caused most of the activity impacting the state. The seven-day forecast currently shows no help in terms of rainfall relief for ongoing drought there. Florida’s outlook is bleak, as chances for wildfires will remain heightened with hotter temperatures and low rainfall typical for spring. Thus, the fire danger for Floridians may last until late spring or early summer when the air becomes more humid and afternoon thunderstorms return.

Florida Wildfires

April 13th Wildfire Activity Map from Florida Forest Service







infrared view of southern plains wildfires

Southern Plains See Record Wildfire Activity

Southern Plains Wildfires

This week, unprecedented fire activity swept through the southern plains. Multiple counties of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas saw critical fire weather conditions Sunday through Wednesday that fanned dozens of fires. Huge smoke plumes stretching for miles have been visible on NASA’s earth imagery for the area. As of March 9, seven people have died, five firefighters have been injured, thousands have been forced to flee their homes, heavy agricultural damage has been incurred, and more than a million acres have collectively burned.

The chaotic fire activity began this weekend when multiple starts forced residents from their homes in Central Kansas. The Highlands and Jupiter Hills fires in Hutchinson burned more than 6,000 acres between them. In the Texas Panhandle, three large fires broke out over the past three days, burning over 400,000 acres. The Perryton fire was the largest at 318,056 acres, rapidly spreading through grass and brush. Another Texas fire, the Lefors East Fire, ultimately claimed the lives of three of the seven reported deaths.

Roughly 60 miles to the north, three major fires burned along the Kansas and Oklahoma border, totaling another 800,000 between them. The three fires were merged into one, now called the ‘Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fire’. The fire is comprised of the Starbuck, Selman and the 283 fires. Authorities said the fires in Kansas and Oklahoma were actually the largest in the histories of both states.

On Wednesday (March 8), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 22 counties affected. These historic fires can be seen in the top of the NASA imagery below. RedZone has used the imagery and MODIS heat detections to estimate the fires’ perimeters, as none of the fires have had official perimeters released.

March 7th view of Southern Plains Wildfires

NASA Imagery shows fires spewing smoke across the Southern Plains on Tuesday, March 7th


Southern Plains Fire Outlook

Wednesday marked the end of the critical fire danger period for the Southern Plains. There will, however, continue to be RH minimums in the teens (but light winds) for at least one more day in counties of western Oklahoma and the northern Texas Panhandle. The area had been dealing with low RH minimums, poor overnight recoveries, dry fine fuels, and breezy winds. A change in weather conditions will arrive Thursday bringing relief in the form of higher RH and potential for wetting rains. Nevertheless, a type-1 Incident Management Team (Dueitt) is already in route to take over command of NW Oklahoma Complex. The weather break is expected through next week and should reduce the fire concern and help aid in control and containment.

Historically, the spring wildfire season in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma can be very active. High fine dead fuel loading is already present and has been supporting large fire growth in Texas and Oklahoma since the start of the year. For the region, a longer than normal spring fire season is anticipated due to current drought, fuel conditions, and predicted warmer and drier than average weather. In turn, the regional fire managers caution that future weather systems could return this week’s fiery conditions to the region.

Regional Fire Statistics

  • As of: March 9th, 2017
  • Location: Southern Kansas, Panhandle of Texas, & Oklahoma
  • Size: 1,000,000+ acres
  • Number of Large Fires: 12
  • Fire Weather: Rapid fire spread through tall grass, agricultural areas, and brush.
  • Structures Threatened: 10,000+
  • Structures Destroyed: 13 Residences, 23 outbuildings
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • News Article: CBS News


CBS News, NASA, NBC News, wideopencountry.com, Southern GACC

Chile Wildfire Outbreak “Worst in Country’s History”

Chile Wildfires Displace Thousands

For the past three weeks, wildfires have ravaged Central Chile in an event President Michele Bachelet called the “greatest forest disaster in our history”. Strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought have created chaos in seven separate regions with over a hundred wildfires burning this month.  The fires have scorched hundreds of thousands of hectares from Santiago to Concepcíon, burning homes and displacing thousands of residents (see photos at this link).

As a result, at least eleven are dead including seven emergency responders (five firefighters and two policemen).  Authorities have called a state of catastrophe in the central regions of O’Higgins and El Maule. Help in the form of funds and even manpower have been pouring in from nine different countries, including the United States.

Chile wildfire smoke

View from NASA Satellites of the Central Chilean Wildfires on January 25th

Cause Still Under Investigation

As the fires have cooled down in most areas, determination of the cause of the wildfire outbreak has been found to be part negligence and part criminal. As of January 30th, local authorities had detained 43 Chileans for suspected arson.

Chile Wildfire Outlook

Fires are common in the summer in Central Chile, but the area is drier than normal, contributing to the dangerous conditions. Hot and windy weather is forecasted to remain prevalent, meaning the fires could continue to spread. The over 4,000 emergency responders deployed to the area will aim to prevent that in the coming weeks.

Chile Fire Outbreak Facts

  • As of: January 31st, 2017
  • Location: Central Chile
  • Size: 180,000 hectares
  • Containment: Around 35 of 100+ fires remain out of control
  • Fire Behavior: Rapid fire spread, fanned by strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought.
  • Structures Destroyed: 1000+ (estimated)
  • Evacuations: 4,000 reported by the  National Emergency Office
  • News Article: The Guardian


NASA’s Earth Observatory, The Guardian, NBC News, Wildfire Today, Yahoo

2016 Fire Season in Review

Fire Season in 2016 saw no shortage of headline-filling wildfires across the US and North America.  However, 2016’s final numbers for both total starts and total acres burned actually came in below averages from the last ten years in both categories.  Data reported by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) for the 2016 calendar year showed 62,864 fire starts, accumulating 5,415,121 acres (down 4.5 million acres from the year before). 

In a recent blog post, we highlighted the top ten wildfires in terms of destruction. Those ten fires alone burned over 1.7 million acres and destroyed over 6,000 structures, displacing tens of thousands of people.

2016 Wildfires in the US

Major Fires from Fire Season 2016 reported by GEOMAC and NIFC

A Look Back at 2016 Fire Danger

The record-setting year in 2015 (in terms of acreage burned) was due mostly to several large fires in Alaska which accounted for over 5 million of the 10 million total acres burned. This year, Alaska was much quieter and the rest of the country burned more or less an average amount. Like most years, 2016 saw high fire danger transition across the country (see animation below), coinciding with regional climate and conditions. High fire danger started in the Midwest in March and April, crept into the Southwest in May and June, moved into the Mountainous West by July, before finishing with the Southern Appalachians towards the end of the year.

2016 Fire Season Highlights

2016 saw the largest fire in Canadian history, the Fort McMurray Fire in May, which scorched over 1.4 million acres in Alberta. It also saw the costliest fire in California history with the Soberanes Fire which lasted 12 weeks and cost in excess of 250 million dollars to fight before being completely smothered.  Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming had its most active fire year since 1988 with 62,000 acres burned and two significant fires that closed down parts of the park. Lastly, the Southern Appalachians saw a significant period of drought through October and November, bringing the devastating Chimney Tops 2 fire and the worst overall fire season on record to that region.


Sources: NIFC, GEOMAC, Predictive Services

Fire Causes Evacuations in Valparaíso, Chile

Valparaíso Fire

On the afternoon of January 2nd, around 400 people were forced to evacuate Valparaíso, a coastal port city in central Chile, due to a forest fire that entered a hillside neighborhood. Local officials believe the fire began at a fisherman’s club and then traveled into the residential area.  As of Tuesday morning, January 3rd, around 100 homes were estimated destroyed with another 500 still at risk, as smoke continues to climb into the skies above the town.

Thus far, no deaths have been reported and the 19 minor injuries are thought to be mostly due to smoke inhalation. News footage shows harrowing video of citizens carrying a variety of items out of their homes, hoping some will be salvageable, including mattresses, entertainment centers, and appliances.

Valparaíso fire burns hillside of homes

Hillside of homes burned Monday, January 2nd, 2017.

Active History of Wildfires

This area of Chile is no stranger to the threat of wildfire. It regularly has an active fire season beginning in November, peaking in January or February, and then decreasing around April. Typically, nearly all wildfires in this region are caused by humans, as lightning and other traditional natural causes are not prevalent in the area.

Chile has also received significantly less rainfall in the last year due to the transition from El Niño to La Niña. The current drought (referred to as megasequía, or ‘mega-drought’) is the longest and most extensive drought in Chilean history, now spanning the past 6 years. The arid weather further dries out the fuels, making any wildland fire a potentially fast-growing danger to surrounding towns.

The 2014 Great Fire of Valparaíso

April of 2014 saw one of the more notable fires in the area’s history.  What is now commonly known as the “Great Fire of Valparaíso” burned across an unofficial landfill area into surrounding vegetation and residential areas.  Over 3 square miles (nearly 2,000 acres) burned, destroying more than 2,500 homes and leaving an estimated 11,000 people displaced.  An additional 6,000 people were forced to evacuate.  Fifteen people were killed and ten reported serious injuries.  The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Hillside view of the Great Fire of Valparaíso, April 12th, 2014.

Hillside view of the Great Fire of Valparaíso, April 12th, 2014.

To read further details on the active wildfire history of Chile, please visit the sources below.


Sage Fire in Ventura County Determined to Be Human Caused

Sage Fire near Simi Valley

Around 2:30 pm on Tuesday, December 20th, a brush fire broke out on a neighborhood hillside in Simi Valley, California, near Los Angeles. The Sage Fire threatened homes just south of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, off Wood Ranch Parkway and Long Canyon Road. Several roads were closed, and the children in the nearby Wood Ranch Elementary’s after school program were bussed to another school.

Sage Fire burn scar from December 20, 2016.

Sage Fire burn scar from December 20, 2016.

Helicopters made several water drops to assist ground crews with structure protection and ground efforts toward containment. Within a couple of hours, the crews had stopped the fire’s forward progress at 61 acres, and by Wednesday the 21st, the fire was 100% contained. No structure damage or injuries were reported and the road closures had been lifted.

Investigation complete

Depending on the complexity and location of the fire, investigations into the cause can often take significant time.  The cause of the Sage Fire however was quickly determined, mainly due to an eye witness account.  Soon after the fire broke out, a nearby homeowner saw two workmen attempting to put it out, smothering it with dirt and trying to create a fire break. This witness’ statement coupled with observed fire behavior and a known starting location assisted investigators in reaching a conclusion quickly–that the fire was accidentally started by sparks from these workmen repairing a metal fence.

Rain in the forecast

The upcoming weather forecast for the days following the fire indicate high chances of rain for multiple days.  As such, several crews continued monitoring the burn area and surrounding neighborhood for the potential for mudslides and debris flows.  These crews also worked with city officials to ensure that nearby storm drains remained clear. Ventura County fire stations handed out free sandbags to homeowners to protect against potential slides, and the County made sandbags available for pickup by homeowners at a location near the burn area.


Ten Most Destructive Wildfires of 2016

Wildfire Season in 2016 was below average in terms of acreage with almost 62,000 fire ignitions totaling 5.3million acres (down from a record 10 million acres burned last year). But this year was especially destructive in terms of structure loss. The ten worst fires destroyed over 6,000 structures alone.

Unfortunately, every year a significant amount of such damage is due to human-caused fires which often spread quickly to structures along the wildland urban interface.  This year as many as 1 in 5 fires were intentionally set.  The deadliest fire of 2016, Chimney Tops 2, was started in Tennessee by two teenage boys and was ultimately responsible for 14 fatalities and at least 160 injuries.

Canada also saw its worst disaster on record with May’s Fort McMurray Fire, which cost 3.58 billion (Canadian dollars) and burned 1.46 million acres in Alberta.  The cause of the fire is still unknown, but lightning has been ruled out as the source of ignition, and human activity is strongly suspected.

destructive wildfires

Ten Most Destructive Wildfires of 2016

For further details on the 10 most destructive wildfires of 2016, see the ESRI Story Map embedded below (best viewed in Chrome or Internet Explorer):

Gatlinburg Disaster: 700 Structures Lost, 13 Fatalities

Chimney Tops 2 Fire Update

Tough questions were abundant at this morning’s press conference as word fell that a thirteenth victim has been identified in the aftermath of this week’s Chimney Tops 2 fire. Fire and Emergency managers tried to dodge the press’s questions regarding whether they waited too long to evacuate residents in the Gatlinburg and surrounding areas, and whether lives were lost because of it. The truth of the situation is this fire was an anomaly. It was a first of its kind for its fire regime.

The fire creeped around in rocky areas of the steep mountains, south of Gatlinburg, for a few days and warranted fire crews to manage it with an aerial attack. An extreme wind event fanned the fire, knocked down power lines, and created ember starts and abundant spot fires equaling utter chaos. Unfortunately, it appears that with power outages and cell service down, emergency notifications were not received by all residents with disastrous implications. Door to door evacuations by the local authorities couldn’t cover the vast areas in impending danger. The rapidly spread ignited leaf litter and ground fuels from wind gusts reported as high as 87 mph, fueled by prolonged drought, (not surprisingly) from house to house.

The Southern Area Red Team in charge of the damage assessment has updated the Incident Page stating, “There have been a number of confirmed fatalities (13 reported as of this morning) and over 700 confirmed structures lost. This fire hit the communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and surrounding areas adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park hard as they were preparing for both Christmas and the final few weeks of a bustling tourist season.” It was truly a disaster never before seen by this part of the country and only rarely seen nationwide.

Map of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire and surrounding spot fires in Sevier County, TN

Chimney Tops 2 Fire Outlook

Southern Area Red Team type-1 incident management team has command of the fire and has been focused on public safety, infrastructure, and assessing damages. The fire has not spread since early in the week after the incident area received precipitation with frontal passage Wednesday. Minimal fire behavior and smoldering is expected for the three day fire forecast.  Weather-wise, a ridge of high pressure will produce dry conditions in the fire area through Saturday before wetting rains are forecast to return late in the weekend.

14,000 people remain displaced by the fires, with almost 4000 residents still without power. Some business owners and evacuees have been escorted back into some areas but most remain under mandatory evacuation for now. Three Red Cross Shelters remain active in the area with 219 people still utilizing them. Red Cross has delivered over 10,000 meals this week in Sevier County according to their website. We’re happy to report that the organization has also received hundreds of thousands in relief donations.

Chimney Tops 2 Fire Facts
  • As of: December 2nd, 2016
  • Location: Sevier County, TN
  • Size: 17,859
  • Containment: 0%
  • Fire Behavior: Minimal fire spread and smoldering.
  • Structures Impacted: 1000 (Estimated)
  • Structures Destroyed: 700 (confirmed but expected to rise)
  • Evacuations: Are in place, 14,000 residents and visitors impacted
  • Fatalities: 13
  • Incident Page: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5112/