What to know about this year's raging wildfires

The Dixie wildfire was the largest in the US in 2021.

Megan Wollerton Former Senior Writer/Editor
3 min read

It's wildfire season in the US.

Philip Pacheco/Bloomberg/Getty Images

More than 7.6 million acres burned in the US in 2021 due to wildfires. That's about 2.6 million fewer acres than 2020. California's Dixie fire was the largest wildfire of 2021; it burned more than 960,000 acres before being contained. Drought was a major driver, as large regions of the West dealt with severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. On Oct. 21, the National Interagency Fire Center reduced the preparedness level from 5 (the highest and most severe) to 1 (the least severe): "Minimal fire activity resulting in many available resources nationally." 

Last year was a devastating year for wildfires in the US: 10.1 million acres burned. California was particularly hard hit, losing over 4.2 million acres to wildfires, setting state records. This year's wildfire season was predicted to break records again but thankfully fell short. 

Drought is only part of the problem. Strong winds, high heat, low humidity and lightning also create conditions for wildfires to more easily start or spread. Others, like last year's 7,000-acre El Dorado gender-reveal party fire, were started by humans by accident. All of these factors, including how to manage wildfires once they start, are compounded by the climate crisis.

Wildfire season doesn't have an official start date. It begins with the first wildfire of the year and ends with the last. Historically, wildfires are most likely to happen between May and October. Lately that paradigm has shifted -- wildfires raged well into late 2020, burning a record-setting 735,125 acres in December.

We'll be regularly updating the section below with resources on how to protect yourself, your family and your home if you live in a wildfire-prone area, as well as how to be more aware if you travel to an area prone to wildfires:

There's a lot more to come to help guide your emergency planning and preparedness, so be on the lookout for new stories right here. In the meantime, keep an eye on InciWeb for current information on wildfires in the US.