Acres burned in lower 49 states in 2021 was more than average

Eight percent higher than the average of the previous 10 years

Updated Feb. 2, 2022

Total wildfire acres

The number of acres that burned in the United States in 2021 according to the annual report from the National Interagency Fire Center, was more than the average of the previous 10 years. The 6,872,286 acres in the lower 49 states is 8 percent higher than the average of the previous 10 years, and 33 percent above the average in the decade before that, 2001 – 2010.

This is contrary to statements from some fire officials in December who said fewer than average acres had burned. That is only correct if Alaska is counted. When it is, the numbers can be misleading. Alaska is a huge state with a very low population for its size. Many fires there burn far from any structures or private property and are not suppressed. On some fires the only action taken is “point protection,” just keeping a small village or single cabin from burning. A fire can burn hundreds of thousands of acres over a period of months with few if any firefighters assigned.

Alaska acres burned

The burned area in Alaska varies wildly from year to year, for example, about 62,000 acres in 2008 and more than 5,000,000 in 2015. In 2015 more acres burned there than in the other 9 geographic areas combined. (Alaska is it’s own geographic area. Map.) However, so far this year, Alaska has ranked only third in number of acres burned in geographic areas, outranking only the Rocky Mountain and Eastern Areas. Including the Alaska numbers in a calculation of fire activity in the 50 states is misleading and can radically skew statistics.

Fires continue to grow larger

The average size of fires 2021 was the fifth largest in the last 36 years. Since 1984 the six years with the highest average size have all occurred in the last 11 years, according to the available reliable data from the National Interagency Fire Center after 1984.

Average Wildfire Size

The total number of fires is on a downward trend

The number of fires in 2021 was the sixth lowest in the last 36 years.

Number of wildfires

All of the statistics for 2021 are from the annual report for 2021 published by the National Interagency Fire Center. Data from previous years also came from NIFC.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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