Floyd county, Iowa
The spectacular prairie fires Floyd County residents witnessed early in the county’s history covered many acres in short order with frightening, even deadly, though also awe-inspiring effects. Twenty-first-century wildfires cause significantly more damage to human structures as there are many more to be damaged. But now, as in the early years of Floyd County, most wildfires in the United States–90%–are caused by humans either unintentionally or intentionally. Only 10% are caused by lightning or lava.
No lava in Iowa but in 2017 there were 427 wildfires burning 7,216 acres. The prairie grasses that once burned so readily in a strong wind are almost entirely gone. The U.S. wildfires are instead, for the most part, further west. The top ten states by number of fires in 2017 are Texas, California, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Arizona, and Oregon. The top ten states by number of acres burned in 2017 are Montana, Nevada, California, Texas, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arizona. The top five years with the largest wildfire acreage burned since 1960 are, in order, 2015 (10.13 million acres), 2017 (10.03 million acres), 2006 (9.87 million acres), 2007 (9.33 million acres) and 2012 (9.33 million acres). In 2018, 8.6 million acres in the U.S. burned. Between 2014-2017, each year 10,000 Fire Service firefighters fought those wildfires. In those same years the number of Department of Interior firefighters battling those wildfires were 3,450 in 2014 steadily rising to 4,514 in 2017. Also rising were the firefighter fatalities: 10 in 2014; 13 in 2015; 12 in 2016; 14 in 2017. Of the ten deadliest fires in California history three are from 2017 and 2018 burning multiple times more acres than the other eight top ten deadliest fires. The causes of all three fires remain under investigation.
Wildfires set the stage for flooding and mudslides in heavy rains.
Sources: on line: “Wildfire Statistics,” Congressional Research Service, November 16, 2018; Facts + Statistics: Wildfires, Insurance Information Institute, 2019.