Each year, NFPA compiles a list of the costliest fires in the United States, a list increasingly dominated by destructive wildfires; 2017 was no different.
According to the NFPA report, “Large-Loss Fires and Explosions,” published in the November/December issue of NFPA Journal, 2017’s most destructive fires were both what experts call “fire siege” wildfire incidents. These are multiple, simultaneous wildfires that burn over a long period of time and cover large land areas. The most destructive of these series of wildfires occurred last October in and around Santa Rosa, California. The fires, led by the Tubbs Fire, caused $10 billion in damage, killed 44 people, and destroyed an estimated 8,900 structures.
This event was the highest damage total in the past 10 years and the second-highest in NFPA records of U.S. fires. The only fire with greater losses, including adjustments to 2017 dollars, was the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. To learn much more about the Tubbs Fire, its impact, and rebuilding efforts, read "Build. Burn. Repeat." the cover story of the January/February NFPA Journal.
Another fire siege in Southern California last December killed four people and caused $1.8 billion in damage, and was the second costliest fire in the U.S. last year, according to the NFPA report. All told, last year saw 13 fires classified as large-loss fires—that is, fires resulting in at least $10 million in damage, adjusted for inflation to 2008 dollars—resulting in a combined property loss of $12.4 billion, according to the NFPA report.
In the past 10 years, there have been 26 fires that have caused a loss of $100 million or more; exactly half of these destructive events have been wildfires. These figures do not account for the hugely destructive fires currently ravaging California, which appear to have now eclipsed even last year’s October fire siege in California. As of this writing, the three largest wildfires currently burning in California have resulted in 50 confirmed deaths and nearly 10,000 structures burned.