Dec 26, 2020 - Science

More than 57,000 U.S. wildfires scorched 10.3 million acres in 2020

A firefighter hosing flames during the Creek fire in Madera County, California, in September 2020.
A firefighter hosing flames during the Creek fire in Madera County, California, in September 2020. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

More than 57,ooo wildfires have torched roughly 10,357,000 acres — around 16,000 square miles — in the United States to date this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

Why it matters: 2020 was one of the most active fire seasons on record in terms of total number of fires and acres burned, coinciding with drought conditions driven increasingly by climate change across much of the Western U.S., and one of the hottest years on record.

By the numbers: In the last decade, 2010 was the least active season with 3.4 million acres burned and 2015 was the most active with 9.9 million acres.

  • As of Dec. 21, the country has spent approximately $3.6 billion on suppressing large fires, according to NIFC. Wildfires also destroyed roughly 18,000 structures this year.

The big picture: California accounted for approximately 3.9 million acres alone, the most land burned by wildfires in the state in a year.

Of note: Wildfires in American West may already be altering the future of forests there, Axios' Alison Snyder reports.

  • Scientists are attempting to determine how forests are responding to severe fire and whether they can regrow or be rebuilt to withstand future fires.

Go deeper: The American West needs more aggressive prescribed burning

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