california wildfires

5 Largest California Wildfires on Record Broke Out Within Past 3 Years

A fire truck drives through flames as the Hennessey fire continues to rage.
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

The five largest wildfires in recorded California history ignited within the past three years, with three of them still actively burning, according to Cal Fire.

As of Thursday morning, the August Complex Fire burning in parts of Glenn, Mendocino, Lake, Tehama and Trinity counties had scorched 471,185 acres, making it the largest California wildfire in the record books, which date back to 1932.

The 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire, which charred parts of Mendocino, Lake, Glenn and Colusa counties, burned 459,123 acres, making it the second largest wildfire.

The SCU and LNU lightning complex fires — two complexes that broke out in the Bay Area last month and are close to full containment — are the third and fourth largest fires in state history, respectively. The SCU Lightning Complex Fire burning in parts of Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties has torched 396,624 acres. The LNU Lightning Complex Fire in portions of Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Yolo and Solano counties has consumed 363,220 acres.

At No. 5 on the list is the Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties back in December 2017.

Cal Fire's list of the largest wildfires in state history includes all blazes that have broken out, regardless of whether they were handled by local, state or federal jurisdictions.

Cal Fire admits that massive fires burned in the years before 1932, but it says "those records are less reliable" and that its current list "is meant to give an overview of the large fires in more recent times."

To see Cal Fire's complete Top 20 Largest California Wildfires list, click here.

It's already been a fire season for the record books, but where do we stand? Is this as bad as it gets? Are these fires a potential blessing in disguise? Those are all questions local scientists are trying to answer in real time. Scott Budman reports.
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