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The Southern California Fire Storm: One of the 25 Largest Fire Losses in U.S. History


The October 2007 California wildfires were a series of wildfires that began burning across Southern California on October 20. At least 1,500 homes were destroyed and over 500,000 acres of land burned from Santa Barbara County to the U.S.–Mexico border. Nine people died as a direct result of the fires; 85 others were injured, including at least 61 firefighters. The raging fire was visible from space.

NASA satellite photo (provided by NSPO, Taiwan National Space Organization) from October 23, 2007,

showing the active fire zones and smoke plumes

Major contributing factors to the extreme fire conditions were drought in Southern California, hot weather, and Santa Ana wind gusts.

Origins of the Fire

Several of the fires were triggered by power lines damaged by high winds. One fire started when a semi-truck overturned and another was suspected as having been deliberately caused.  Causes of the remaining fires remain under investigation.

San Diego County

Of all the fires, the two biggest were located in San Diego County. The largest, the Witch (Creek) Fire, burned areas north and northeast of San Diego. The second largest, the Harris Fire, burned northwest from the U.S–Mexico border towards San Diego.

Residents experienced mandatory and voluntary evacuations, depending on the projected path of a fire. On October 24, 2007, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Kolender stated that the number of people evacuated in San Diego County had exceeded the number evacuated from New Orleans, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina.

Two days into the fires, approximately 500,000 people from at least 346,000 homes were under mandatory orders to evacuate, the largest evacuation in the region's history.

By October 23, some evacuations were lifted, allowing about 50,000 residents from the cities of Del Mar, Chula Vista, and Poway, and the San Diego neighborhoods of Del Mar Heights and Scripps Ranch to return home.  The fires continued, however, and damage was severe. The four major fires across San Diego County burned nearly 300,000 acres and destroyed or damaged 1,350 homes and 100 businesses since October 21, 2007.

25 Largest Fire Losses in U.S. History

Below table courtesy of NFPA:



   Portland Fire & Rescue

   We Respond: Always Ready, Always There

   October 20, 2010



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