This map shows the perimeters of more than 20,000 wildfires that have been recorded in California from 1878 to 2020 using data from Cal Fire, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This map and data is not intended to be used for legal purposes or statistical analysis.
History of wildfires
These wildfires are categorized by the decade or time period in which they started. 77 fires that did not include a year in the data have been left out. Fires that started between 1878 and 1969 are shown separately here due to more inconsistencies in data for earlier fires. 2020 is also shown separately because there has been only one recorded fire year so far in the 2020s decade in this dataset.
These fires are also categorized by the meteorological season in which they started, which are as follows: Winter (December - February), Spring (March - May), Summer (June - August) and Fall (September - November).
Also displayed here are the reported cause and acres of each fire shown. Cal Fire enters the cause of each year’s fires when this data is captured annually and does not update them if investigations are later completed or determinations are changed. This means that the causes shown for some fires may be out of date.
Some fires may be missing because historical records were lost or damaged, were too small for the minimum cutoffs, had inadequate documentation or have not yet been incorporated into the database. Cal Fire’s data includes timber fires that burned more than 10 acres, brush fires that burned more than 50 acres and grass fires that burned more than 300 acres, so some smaller fires may not be shown here. Ten acres is the federal minimum for reporting.
Cal Fire says that this dataset — which runs from 1878 to 2020 as of April 2021 and is updated annually — is one of the most complete datasets of California’s fires through history. However, the data is by nature incomplete and duplicates may exist. As of September 2020, Cal Fire had found that the dataset is missing 483 notable fires and is looking to find and add these. Fires may be missing altogether or have missing or incorrect attribute data.
CapRadio changed the names of three fires on this map that included a racial slur in accordance with Associated Press guidelines and our own standards.
This map was created by Liz Anderson, Emily Zentner, Veronika Nagy, Chris Hagan, Renee Thompson, Katy Kidwell and Helga Salinas.