Camp Fire devastation worse than California’s 10 other most destructive wildfires combined

Over 100,000 people are displaced, with hundreds living in refuge camps.

Victims of the Camp Fire live in tents at the parking area of Walmart in Chico of Butte County, California, the United States, Nov. 18, 2018. (Credit: Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling via Getty Images)
Victims of the Camp Fire live in tents at the parking area of Walmart in Chico of Butte County, California, the United States, Nov. 18, 2018. (Credit: Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling via Getty Images)

California’s devastating Camp Fire is the state’s deadliest wildfire ever, and now it has surpassed another record: destroying more buildings than any other wildfire the state has suffered.

In fact, the Camp Fire has destroyed almost as many structures as the subsequent 10 worst fires in the state’s history combined.

According to data from the state’s forest and fire protection agency, CalFire, and compiled by meteorologist Steve Bowen of Aon, the total number of structures destroyed by the previous 10 worst fires is 20,483. The Camp Fire, meanwhile, is responsible for wiping out 15,850 structures — nearly three times more than the second most destructive fire, last year’s Tubbs Fire.

And as the chart of the most destructive fires shows, half of them have occurred since 2010.

As scientists have explained, climate change is making wildfires more intense. Fueled by hot temperatures, dry conditions, and strong seasonal winds — all things that are increasingly impacted by climate change — the Camp Fire exploded on November 8. Still raging, the fire is only expected to be fully contained by the end of the month.

It has now claimed the lives of at least 79 people, and just under a 1,000 people are still unaccounted for.

Together with another ongoing wildfire in Southern California, the Woolsey Fire, at least 150,000 people have been displaced. Thousands have sought refuge with families, in hotels, evacuation centers, and even makeshift tent cities, including in one Walmart parking lot.


Local officials have warned that the devastating Camp Fire could cause a wave of refugee migration similar to what was seen in the 1930s Dust Bowl era.

The town of Paradise in Butte County was effectively wiped out due to the Camp Fire; more than 52,000 people were forced to evacuate. And for those who may be lucky enough to not have had their home burned to the ground, it’s unclear when they’ll be able to return.

Ed Mayer, the executive director of Butte County’s housing agency, was asked if the area was facing a humanitarian crisis, the Sacramento Bee reported. “Big picture, we have 6,000, possibly 7,000 households who have been displaced and who realistically don’t stand a chance of finding housing again in Butte County,” he responded. “I don’t even know if these households can be absorbed in California.”

Meanwhile, for those forced to set up camp, or who are in other temporary shelters and evacuation centers, health risks abound.

Norovirus, for instance, has broken out in at least three evacuation facilities. Officials have had to contain some people in isolation tents in an effort to stop it spreading.


In addition, sleeping outside means people are breathing hazardous air every single day. Air quality in San Francisco, for example, is so bad that at times it’s been the equivalent of smoking 10 cigarettes a day.

Some relief from the fire and smoke is expected to come with the rain forecast for this week. But as the rainstorm looms, fears are now turning to those left homeless, who will undoubtedly be drenched. In response, officials are working to help people in refuge camps find alternate shelter to escape the elements.