US Wildfire Damage Plunged In 2023

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Not every statistic about the global climate crisis gets worse every year. The number of acres damaged by wildfires in 2023 dropped to 2.6 million. The 2022 figure was 7.5 million, the 2021 number was 7.1 million, and the 2020 figure was 10.1 million. The trend may mean very little. The North American count was tremendous because fires destroyed over 40 million acres in Canada, which much more than offset the US figure.

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The figure does mean a great deal to the US financially. The cost of wildfires to the American economy annually is between $394 billion and $893 billion, according to the JEC. Skeptics would argue that the range is so large that the figure is meaningless. The JEC explanation is that many of the costs are variable. This is because they include real estate values and healthcare costs. The JEC also states that the numbers are an underestimate because they are incomplete: 

These additional costs include: how post-fire erosion harms agriculture and makes mudslides and flooding more likely; post-wildfire rehabilitation costs to help burn scars and other parts of the ecosystem recover; and the costs of managed retreat when certain areas become too wildfire prone to live in.

The dollar number at the middle of the 2022 JEC range is $650 billion. If this is right, 2023 was closer to $250 billion. Those figures cannot be taken as accurate but should be accepted as directionally valuable.

Also, 2023 is an outlier. Many of the mountain ranges in the West got much more rain than expected. The long-term trend is that drought will continue to worsen as it has for decades. There is little improvement in wildfire detection or prevention to help arrest the rapid spread of large wildfires. The effects of human carelessness, lightning, and other causes have not changed. 

Property owners, utility companies, and insurance firms financially affected by wildfire had a good year. None of these should count on that being a pattern.

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