More than 1.3 million fires were reported by fire departments in 2016, resulting in an estimated 3,390 civilian deaths—the highest number of fatalities since 2008.
The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), reports annually on large-loss fires and explosions that occurred in the United States the year before. Those fires are defined as events that result in property damage of at least $10 million. There were 25 such fires in 2016, resulting in a total of over $1.4 billion in direct property losses. In order to compare losses over the past 10 years, we adjust losses for inflation to 2007 dollars. When adjusted for inflation, the number of fires in 2016 that would have been categorized as large-loss fires—that is, fires resulting in a loss of $10 million in 2007 dollars—drops to 18, with an adjusted loss of slightly more than $1.2 billion.
In 2016, six fires—four fewer than the previous year—resulted in more than $20 million each in property damage. These fires resulted in a combined property loss of $1.2 billion, or 83.2 percent of the total loss in large-loss fires and 11.4 percent of the total fire losses in the United States in 2016.
According to “Fire Loss in the United States During 2016,” published in the September/October issue of NFPA Journal, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,342,000 structure and nonstructure fires, which resulted in an estimated loss of $10.6 billion. Many of these fires were small or resulted in little or no reported property damage.
Although the 25 large-loss fires accounted for only 0.002 percent of the estimated number of fires in 2016, they accounted for 9.9 percent of the total estimated dollar loss. In addition, those 25 fires accounted for 14 civilian deaths, with another 183 civilians and eight firefighters injured. Last year was the eighth year out of the past 10 that a wildland/urban interface (WUI) fire topped the list of the year’s biggest large-loss fires.
In three of those years, 2011, 2015, and 2016, wildfires accounted for the largest and second-largest fires, and in 2007 the three largest fires in terms of estimated loss were WUI fires. In the past 10 years, there have been 33 wildland fires that accounted for more than $10 million each in direct property losses. In human terms, these fires have been responsible for 31 deaths, 278 injuries, and $7.3 billion in loss to property.