Comparing Lightning-Caused and Human-Caused U.S. Wildfires


This post is by Carmen Ang from Visual Capitalist


comparing acres burned by human-caused fires versus lightning in the U.S.

Comparing Lightning-Caused and Human-Caused U.S. Wildfires

Each year, thousands of acres of land are scorched by wildfires across the United States. While most of these fires are triggered by natural causes such as lightning, some are unfortunately caused by human activity.

This graphic by Gilbert Fontana uses data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) to show the number of acres burned across the U.S. between 2001 and 2021.

YearAcres burned (lightning-caused fires)Acres burned (human-caused fires)
20214,101,8843,023,759
20204,123,5235,998,813
20193,447,0381,217,324
20183,127,0035,640,489
20175,195,6104,830,476
20161,743,3853,766,610
20158,112,6882,012,461
20142,012,8431,582,770
20133,057,5661,261,980
20126,825,9892,500,249
20113,354,5965,356,771
20102,119,2751,303,449
20093,849,0402,072,746
20081,862,4773,429,991
20075,878,6913,449,360
20065,468,9014,404,844
20057,168,0621,521,327
20047,011,023964,800
20032,038,4431,922,249
20024,097,5933,077,119
20011,822,6001,748,661

Historically, we can see that lightning-caused fires have led to more damage in the U.S., and this is especially true in the West region which includes states like California, Oregon, and Washington.

That said, it’s worth noting that in three out of the six years from 2016–2021, human-caused wildfires led to more damage.

If you’re interested in learning more about wildfires, check out this article about The Relationship Between Climate Change and Wildfires