Comparing Two of California’s Most Destructive Wildfires

With the devastating Camp Fire 100 percent contained as of November 25, the focus now shifts to the recovery process. California is no stranger to massive fire recoveries, experiencing a similar event in the 2017 North Bay Fires, including the massive Tubbs Fire. 

The Camp and Tubbs fires are two of the latest in the recent stretch of record-breaking wildfires, notably including 2017’s Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara County, and this past summer’s Carr Fire in Shasta County and Mendocino Complex Fire in Lake and Mendocino counties.

The Camp and Tubbs Fires, the two most destructive, offer both similarities and significant differences.

In terms of time, the Tubbs Fire burned for a longer period; 23 days, October 8-31. The Camp Fire burned November 8-25, a span of 17 days. In that time, the Tubbs Fire burned 36,307 acres, while the Camp Fire covered 153,336 acres in comparison. The Tubbs Fire resulted in the loss of 5,636 structures, while the Camp Fire lost a monumental 18,613 (13,972 residences, 528 commercial and 4,293 other buildings).

The Tubbs Fire resulted in 22 fatalities, making it the fourth deadliest fire in California history. The Camp Fire, already the deadliest U.S. wildfire, currently stands at 85 fatalities as of December 3rd, with still 11 people considered missing.

Both fires were spurned by extremely high winds, having similar sustained wind gusts of 30-40 mph and isolated winds registering upwards of 70 mph. These winds also resulted in terrible air quality throughout Northern California. The North Bay Fires led to what was at the time the worst air quality ever recorded in the San Francisco Bay area, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). The index measured 269 on October 13, 2017 which is considered very unhealthy. In comparison, the Camp Fire, occurring over 175 miles north of the Tubbs burn area, registered an even higher index of 271 in San Francisco on November 16. Chico, located 15 miles from Paradise, registered a hazardous 571 with the World Air Quality index, the highest anywhere.

The Camp Fire and Tubbs Fire both provided to be unique disasters in their size, scope, and level of destruction. The path to recovery from these disasters is daunting for all involved. However, Federal, State, and Local agencies are utilizing the experience gained from the North Bay Fire recovery and working around the clock to ensure that the recovery process is done as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Additional Resources:

Current Incidents

Cal Fire: Tubbs Fire 

Cal Fire: Camp Fire


RJ Ghilarducci

RJ Ghilarducci is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). He joined the OES team to aid in 2018's Camp, Woolsey, Hill, and Holy Fire recoveries. He previously served on Governor Gavin Newsom's campaign, worked as a newspaper reporter, and coached Division 1 college football.

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