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US Congressional Report Analyzes Two Decades of Wildfire Data

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), which conducts nonpartisan policy research for the US Congress, issued a report in mid-2023 called "Wildfire Statistics." The CRS defines wildfires asunplanned fires, including lightning-caused fires, unauthorized human-caused fires, and escaped fires from prescribed burn projects.”

Using data from the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC), the CRS report shows the number of annual wildfires, though variable, decreased slightly over the last 30 years. Meanwhile, the affected acreage increased annually.

It should be noted that acreage burned “does not indicate the severity of a wildfire” or its impact on forests and soils.

wildfire data
  1. From 2000 to 2022, an average of 70,025 wildfires have burned an average of 7.0 million acres (about the area of Belgium) annually. That is more than double the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s (3.3 million acres). However, the 1990s averaged more fires annually (78,600).

  2. In 2022, 68,988 wildfires burned 7.6 million acres. More than 40% of those acres were in Alaska (3.1 million acres).

  3. By June 1, 2023, about 18,300 wildfires had burned over 511,000 acres (about half the area of Rhode Island) in the US.

  4. About 89% of the average number of wildfires from 2018 to 2022 (or about 52,600 fires) were caused by humans.

  5. Wildfires caused by lightning burned 53% of the average annual acreage affected from 2018 to 2022.

  6. In 2022, 52% of US acreage burned by wildfires was on federal lands (4.0 million acres).

  7. However, wildfires on state, local, or privately owned lands accounted for 83% of total fires.

  8. In 2022, over 2,700 structures were burned in wildfires, most of which were in California.

  9. Of the 1.6 million wildfires since 2000, 254 burned over 100,000 acres (about half the area of San Antonio, Texas) and sixteen burned more than 500,000 acres (about the area of Yosemite National Park).



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