The Most Dangerous States for Wildfires

Joe Roberts
Researcher & Writer
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Published on July 30, 2021
2 min read
Map of the most dangerous and safest states for wildfires

Wildfires are a growing problem in the United States and around the world, and all signs point to fires continuously becoming greater threats to life and property as climate change worsens.

With wildfires on the rise, you’re probably wondering which states are the most endangered by them. We dug into the data for the last three years and found that states in the western half of the country consistently see the worst fires, though many states across the nation saw fire rates increase from 2019 to 2020.

Keep reading to learn more about fire rates and see where your state ranks among areas where wildfires rage most often.


Key findings

  • From 2019 to 2020, the average number of wildfires in the US increased by 959% and the median amount of wildfires increased by 46%.
  • In the last three years, Alaska, California, Oregon, Texas, and Utah have had the most acres burned by wildfires.
  • Lightning is the leading cause of wildfires in California, Texas, and Utah.
  • Statistically, these sources cause wildfires in these states more than any other state:
    • Colorado—Arson
    • New Mexico—Campfire
    • Texas—Debris burning, powerlines, and smoking
    • Utah—Fireworks
    • California—Children and lightning
    • Wyoming—Railroads

The safest and most dangerous states for wildfires

States where the most acres burned in 2020

  1. California (11,830,040 acres)
  2. Oregon (797,792 acres)
  3. Washington (351,675 acres)
  4. Montana (307,384 acres)
  5. Texas (269,430 acres)
  6. Utah (216,691 acres)
  7. Alaska (157,716 acres)
  8. Colorado (150,026 acres)
  9. Oklahoma (71,769 acres)
  10. Arizona (49,469 acres)

States where the fewest acres burned in 2020

  1. Delaware (8 acres)
  2. Rhode Island (85 acres)
  3. New Hampshire (89 acres)
  4. Vermont (133 acres)
  5. Connecticut (381 acres)
  6. Massachusetts (894 acres)
  7. Illinois (995 acres)
  8. Maine (1,047 acres)
  9. Ohio (1,121 acres)
  10. Maryland (1,418 acres)

As you can see, there’s a pretty stark wildfire disparity between the western and eastern halves of the country. Most states with the largest 2020 wildfires lie in the West, while all of the states with the fewest wildfires are eastern states. In fact, most of them lie directly on the East Coast.

There are a few notable exceptions, though. For example, Florida ranks 12th most dangerous in our data despite being an East Coast state.

It’s also worth noting that many of the states with the fewest burned acres have less total acreage than states where more acres burned. For example, Delaware is only 1,265,920 acres in size,1 while Texas is 168,217,600.2

However, even accounting for outliers and differences in total acreage, western states are clearly at much greater risk for wildfires than eastern states on average.


Methodology

For our research, we used data gathered and published by the National Fire and Aviation Management Web Applications Program.3 To get a full understanding of the growing rate of wildfires in the US, we looked at wildfire data from the last three years. We also looked at the most common causes of wildfires.

However, states were only ranked for their total number of acres burned in 2020. States were not ranked for other factors like statistical wildfire increases over time and wildfire causes.

10 states did not have 2020 wildfire data published, so they weren’t included in our rankings.

Sources

  1. Ballotpedia, “Federal land policy in Delaware.” Accessed July 13, 2021.
  2. Ballotpedia, “Federal land policy in Texas.” Accessed July 13, 2021.
  3. National Fire and Aviation Management, “Welcome to FAMWEB.” Accessed July 13, 2021.

Wildfire danger in every state

Rank
State
Acres burned in 2019
Acres burned in 2020
Change from 2019 to 2020
1California46,10211,830,04025,560.6%
2Oregon17,128797,7924,557.8%
3Washington15,397351,6752,184.0%
4Montana48,252307,384537.0%
5Texas204,222269,43031.9%
6Utah89,298216,691142.7%
7Alaska2,157,965157,716-92.7%
8Colorado18,333150,026718.3%
9Oklahoma34,47471,769108.2%
10Arizona153,36049,469-67.7%
11New Mexico66,45046,496-30.0%
12Florida91,28544,765-51.0%
13Nevada13,05139,498202.7%
14South Dakota2,45627,6851027.2%
15Kansas22,79521,546-5.5%
16Mississippi15,65718,11815.7%
17Missouri9,64312,18126.3%
18Indiana4,8499,750101.1%
19New York1,0759,318766.4%
20Iowa3,2656,13087.8%
21Georgia12,1135,770-52.4%
22Hawaii16,8205,276-68.6%
23Minnesota4,6265,20912.6%
24New Jersey12,0414,796-60.2%
25West Virginia7,4574,690-37.1%
26Wisconsin2,1603,36555.8%
27Louisiana5,7123,084-46.0%
28Pennsylvania6923,033338.0%
29Michigan6,1632,899-53.0%
30South Carolina7,6742,764-64.0%
31Maryland1,4911,418-4.9%
32Ohio9181,12122.1%
33Maine1511,047595.2%
34Illinois253995293.5%
35Massachusetts248894259.7%
36Connecticut68381461.5%
37Vermont22133502.7%
38New Hampshire1989361.3%
39Rhode Island638536.0%
40Delaware880.0%
Joe Roberts
Written by
Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over four years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.