Five of the Seven Largest Wildfires in California History Are Currently Burning

Five of the seven largest wildfires in California's history are currently burning, as the state continues to see a record number of blazes and acres burned throughout the wildfire season.

A disastrous combination of an unprecedented heat wave, low humidity and powerful lightning storms served as the primary cause of wildfires in August, the beginning of California's fire season. Across the country, 43,598 wildfires have burned through nearly 7 million acres as of September 21—that's over 1 million more acres burned than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

California has faced the brunt of these fires, with nearly 8,000 incidents burning through 3.63 million acres this year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Protection. Twenty-six people have been confirmed dead as a result of the wildfires, and more than 7,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed.

Many experts are pointing to climate change as the biggest driving force behind this sharp increase in the number of wildfires. "It's really shocking to see the number of fast-moving, extremely large and destructive fires simultaneously burning," Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the New York Times.

Emily Szasz, a graduate art history student, told the Times about her experience living in Santa Cruz, where she has endured "23 straight days of orange, oppressive, smoky skies."

"There is no greater proof, nor should we require it, that climate change is here and is changing our lives," Szasz told the Times about this year's wildfires. "I am only 25 years old and I do not know what future there is for me, let alone my potential children and grandchildren."

The seven largest wildfires in California's history have burned within the last three years alone, and five of those began in 2020. Here is a list of all seven, with figures accurate as of September 21.

Bobcat Fire
Firefighters battle the Bobcat Fire as it surpasses 100,000 acres on the evening of September 20, 2020 near Wrightwood, California. David McNew/Getty

August Complex Fire: August 16, 2020

  • Location: Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties
  • Acres: 846,898
  • Containment: 43 percent
  • Fatalities: Zero

Mendocino Complex Fire: July 27, 2018

  • Location: Mendocino, Lake, Colusa and Glenn counties
  • Acres: 459,123
  • Date contained: September 18, 2018
  • Fatalities: One

SCU Lightning Complex: August 18, 2020

  • Location: Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Merced and Stanislaus counties
  • Acres: 396,624
  • Containment: 98 percent
  • Fatalities: Zero

LNU Lightning Complex: August 17, 2020

  • Location: Sonoma, Lake, Yolo, Napa, Solano counties
  • Acres: 363,220
  • Containment: 98 percent
  • Fatalities: Five

North Complex Fire: August 18, 2020

  • Location: Butte and Plumas counties
  • Acres: 298,191
  • Containment: 74 percent
  • Fatalities: 15

Thomas Fire: December 4, 2017

  • Location: Ventura and Santa Barbara counties
  • Acres: 281,893
  • Date contained: January 12, 2018
  • Fatalities: Two

Creek Fire: September 4, 2020

  • Location: Fresno and Madera counties
  • Acres: 280,425
  • Containment: 30 percent
  • Fatalities: Zero