While the overall number of wildfires per year is declining, the increasing size and intensity of fires have led to more property damage than ever before. The average fire size has tripled over the past 30 years, according to a recent report by CoreLogic.

Wildfire activity is cyclical and doesn't follow a uniform pattern from season to season. In 2023, when an El Ni—o weather pattern brought increased moisture to the West and South, the U.S. experienced a 25-year low in total area burned. Reports showed 2.7 million acres (4,209 square miles) burned that year from wildfires. In 2022, nearly triple that area burned, with fires touching 7.57 million acres (11,839 square miles).

In the first four months of 2024, 1.75 million acres have burned in the U.S. This is primarily due to the largest fire recorded in Texas history, which scorched more 1 million acres. State lawmakers have faulted a power pole for starting the massive blaze. While this blaze burned mostly farmland, many other smaller wildfires have struck near homes in Texas recently.

According to federal data cited by the National Park Service, humans cause about 85% of all wildfires yearly in the United States. In 2023, a small fire sparked by a lawnmower came within a mile from my home. Preparing to evacuate my entire life was surreal to say the least. Thankfully, our amazing fire service extinguished the blaze before it took over my own block.

"While the number of fires per year is in decline, the increasing size and intensity of those fires is creating more property damage than ever before," wrote Tom Jeffery, Ph.D., author of the report out from CoreLogic.

CoreLogic conducts an annual analysis of the wildfire hazard by calculating the residential exposure to higher categories of wildfire risk and the reconstruction cost of properties to produce the top 15 core-based statistical areas in the U.S. for wildfire exposure. All the metro areas on the list are in the West, six of which are in California. Austin, Texas, my hometown, is number seven.

Los Angeles tops the list with 185,763 properties at a higher risk and at a reconstruction value of $143.3 billion.

The rest of the top 10 are Riverside (166,372 at $86.6 billion), San Diego (123,060 at $75.6 billion), Sacramento (91,475 at $53.2 billion), San Francisco (56,985 at $40.2 billion), Oxnard (39,918 at $27.4 billion), Austin (64,768 at $27.3 billion), Denver (51,371 at $25.9 billion), Truckee (43,674 at $20.9 billion) and Colorado Springs (39,854 at $17.4 billion).

The report also notes that many of the high-extreme wildfire risk areas are in states that lead the nation in housing shortages, which means many homes will be built in the wildland-urban interface, raising risks for properties and people alike.

For more information, read the full report here.

Andrea Wells

Andrea Wells is a veteran insurance editor and Editor-in-Chief of Insurance Journal Magazine.