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8 numbers that tell the grim story of California’s wildfires

In the aftermath of the most deadly and destructive wildfire in California history — the Camp Fire, which torched areas of Butte County, including the town of Paradise — experts are working to quantify the loss.

The overall damage to the state after the 2018 wildfire season has been predicted, by one estimate, to top $400 billion, which could make it the most expensive slew of natural disasters in the history of the United States. That number reflects the 7,579 wildfires that burned across this season. But the worst devastation came from just two.

“Just think of the people in tents and so on, not in their home,” said Joel Myers, president and founder of AccuWeather, who made the $400 billion prediction.

Having just escaped the fires, thousands of people are still displaced. “It will be cold, and windy, and rainy, and damp. It’s just miserable,” Myers said.

Potential mudslides and flooding, as well as long-term health effects from smoke, are just a few of the ongoing problems Californians will face.

Here’s a look at some of the extraordinary numbers that define the devastation caused by two of California’s wildfires this year.


The number of days it took to fully contain the Camp Fire. The Woolsey Fire, which burned parts of Ventura and Los Angeles counties in Southern California, began on the same day as the Camp Fire, Nov. 8, and was contained in 13 days.


The total number of confirmed fatalities so far from the fires — 88 from the Camp Fire, and three from the Woolsey Fire. Previously, California’s deadliest fire was 1933’s Griffith Fire in Los Angeles, during which 29 people were killed.


The number of people still considered missing in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, as of Nov. 30. The missing people may simply be out of contact with the sheriff’s office, or if deceased, their remains may not have been found and identified.


The average age in years of the residents of Paradise, California. The town’s most recent census data indicates that about 25 percent of the population are age 65 or older, and the town was known as “a refuge for retirees,” who may have had additional difficulty evacuating.


The total acres burned in the two fires. Combined, the fires consumed an area equivalent to about 391 square miles — more than a third of the state of Rhode Island, or the area of Chicago, Seattle and Baltimore combined.


The approximate number of prison inmates who were paid dollars per day to fight the two wildfires. Inmates are more likely to be injured than civilian firefighters, and they will most likely be unable to find work as firefighters after their release.

9-13 billion

The estimated total dollars of insured property damage from the Camp and Woolsey fires. According to Chris Folkman, senior director of product management at risk-modeling firm RMS, “We are learning that wildfires can be multibillion-dollar events, and that is something we have not seen very often in history.” As a result, insurance and reinsurance companies may reconsider their costs and coverage in the Western U.S.

READ MORE: How climate change is changing your insurance ]

400 billion

The estimated total economic damage in dollars from the 2018 fires in California.

That estimate is staggering — that’s about 2 percent of the U.S. GDP. But Myers’ company — which has made the same kind of predictions after other natural disasters — takes into account a long list of factors not included in insurance-based estimates, such as property and business damage from the fires, and long-term health impacts from smoke. With California’s heavy rains expected to continue, the estimate also includes potential damages from mudslides that occur after fires remove the roots and other material that held dirt in place. Myers said that his number additionally takes into account lost tax revenue for the state, lower real estate values as people become wary of property in fire- and smoke-prone areas and a decline in state-wide tourism.

In total, Myers said, the damage from all of California’s wildfires this year is comparable to the 2017’s entire hurricane season, including major disasters like hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

It’s important to call attention to the situation in California, Myers said, “so that people realize the suffering is far from over for these people.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Joel Myers.