Amount of US land burning in wildfires increasing: Report

  • Texas is facing its largest wildfire in state history 
  • Statista found the amount of land burned in wildfires is going up
  • Experts have cited climate change as part of the reason why

STINNETT, TEXAS – MARCH 1: A view of burnt area after a wildfire in Stinnett, Texas on March 1, 2024. At least 2 dead as largest wildfire in state history tears through Texas Panhandle. (Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — The acreage of land burned in the United States due to wildfires has increased over the past 40 years, according to Statista, a data-gathering platform.

During the 1980s and 1990s, having about 10 to 16 million acres burned in a five-year period was considered normal. In the 2000s and 2010s, that number increased to upwards of 30 million.

This study was published as firefighters continue to battle Texas’ largest wildfire in state history. An influx of hundreds of first responders and more favorable weather conditions have kept it from threatening more homes and communities.

The Smokehouse Creek Fire has killed at least two people as it scorched prairie, killed cattle and burned structures to the ground.

Last year, devastating wildfires starting in August killed nearly 100 people and destroyed thousands of homes in Hawaii.

Statista observed the acres burned in five-year periods since 1983. From that year until 1987, about 10.5 million acres were burned. From 2018 to 2022, meanwhile, 38.3 million burned.

In almost every period studied by Statista, the amount of acreage damaged in fires went up or stayed the same compared to the period before it, except for 2008-2012, when it was 32.7 million. The previous years, 2003 through 2007, saw 39.9 million acres burned. The increase is still a large jump, though, from 1998-2002, which saw 25.1 million acres burned.

Climate change is one of the reasons Statista cited for this, a view shared by experts and officials.

“While the acreage destroyed by fires has been increasing, so has the cost of wildfire mitigation and the amount of money lost to fires,” Statista wrote. “This is due to human settlements expanding further into forested regions, making it increasingly more expensive to protect and save homes from fires.”

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, in an interview with CNN Sunday, said although the federal government has the funds, equipment and personnel to assist Texas officials in controlling the fires, more extreme weather could be coming because of climate change.

“It’s a remarkable phenomenon, and it will manifest itself in the days to come, and we have to prepare for it now,” he said Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Climate

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