Wildfires - Annual 2011

200-2011 Annual Wildfire Counts
2000–2011 U.S. Wildfire Counts
Data Source: NIFC

Issued: 19 January 2012

During 2011, drier-than-average conditions were observed from the western states across the southern tier of the country and into the Southeast. The driest area of the country was the Southern Plains of Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. These regions also experienced warmer-than-average conditions during 2011. The Western Great Lakes were also drier than normal during the latter half of the year, but areas across the Northern Plains, Ohio Valley, and Northeast were wetter than normal for the annual period. Many locations across the Ohio Valley and Northeast had their wettest year on record. The overall pattern during 2011 created ideal wildfire conditions across most of the southern U.S. during the year and the driest areas of the Southern Plains experienced above average wildfire activity. New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Minnesota all had record-breaking wildfires during 2011.

Year-to-Date Wildfire Statistics*
January - December Totals Rank
(out of 12 years)
Record 2000-2010
Value Year
Acres Burned 8,711,367 3rd Most 9,873,745 2006 6,612,363
10th Least
Number of Fires 74,126 7th Most 96,385 2006 77,951
6th Least
Acres Burned per Fire 117.5 3rd Most 130.2 2005 85.2
10th Least

*Data Source: The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC)

Through December 30th, the nationwide number of fires year-to-date was 73,484 which burned 8.7 million acres (3.5 million hectares), with an average of 119 acres (48.2 hectares) per fire. The spring and summer were particularly active wildfire periods, while the fall season was quieter than average. The fires across the southern U.S. led 2011 to having the third most active wildfire season with respect to acres burned and sixth least active in terms of number of fires. Texas had the most acres burned of any state during the year, with over 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) burned across the state during 2011, 43 percent of the national total. Several of the large fires were destructive and expensive to control, with the state of Texas spending over a million dollars a day to control the fires during the very active spring period. During 2011 the damages from wildfires across the U.S. will exceed one billion U.S. dollars.

The spring wildfire season (March-May) was particularly noteworthy. During the three month period, 20,100 fires burned over 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares) across the U.S., mostly across Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The acres burned were record high for the 3-month period, surpassing the spring of 2008 when 1.5 million acres (607,000 hectares) burned nationwide. Wet conditions during the 2010 summer caused an abundance of vegetative growth across the Southern Plains. The region then experienced a very dry winter and spring season, causing the new vegetation to dry, creating a significant source of wildfire fuels. During the January 1st through April 30th period, 2.2 million acres (0.9 million hectares) burned across Texas alone. Several fires during the season affected populated areas in Texas, including the Wildcat Fire which forced an evacuation in San Angelo, Texas, and the Rock House Fire, which burned over 40 homes in Fort Davis.

Number of Fires and Acres burned during 2011
Acres burned during 2011
Compared to 2001–2010 Average
Number of Fires and Acres burned during 2011
Number of fires during 2011
Compared to 2001–2010 Average

Significant Events during 2011

The Las Conchas Fire burned in northern New Mexico during June and July. The fire consumed over 156,500 acres (63,000 hectares). This fire surpassed the Dry Lakes Fire of 2003 as New Mexico’s largest wildfire on record. The fire was driven by strong winds and extremely dry fuels. The largest concern of the firefighters was the town of Los Alamos, home to the country’s premier nuclear research facility. The fire encroached upon the grounds of the research facility several times, but fire crews were able to keep the flames from spreading. According to media reports, the blaze was said to be as close as 50 ft away from the grounds of the lab, raising fears it could reach a cache of 30,000 drums, each containing 55 gallons of plutonium-contaminated waste. This prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to deploy air monitors and aircraft to monitor radiation levels. The lab, as well as the Bandelier National Monument, was closed and several cities nearby including Los Alamos, Cochiti Mesa, and Las Conchas were evacuated as a precaution. Over 1,200 crews from around the country were called in to battle the blaze.

Wallow Fire Smoke 7 June 2011

Satellite image of Wallow Fire 7 June 2011
Source: NASA

During May and June, the Wallow Fire ravaged over 538,000 acres (217,700 hectares) across Arizona. The Wallow fire was the largest fire ever reported in the state of Arizona, surpassing the Rodeo-Chediski Fire by nearly 70,000 acres (28,328 hectares), which occurred in July 2002. The fire threatened several communities in eastern Arizona, forcing the evacuation of Sunrise, Greer, Blue River, Alpine, Nutrioso, Eager, and Springerville. The fire had far reaching impacts beyond Arizona, with the strong winds blowing the smoke as far away as the Great Lakes, creating poor air quality conditions from Arizona to Wisconsin.

Satellite image of Texas Fires 6 September 2011

Satellite image of Texas Fires 6 September 2011
Source: NASA

During the first week of September, the Bastrop fire raged in central Texas. As Tropical Storm Lee made landfall along the Louisiana coast, the storm caused strong winds to whip up across Texas. The strong winds, combined with the ongoing drought, created ideal wildfire conditions. The Bastrop fire was ignited on September 4th, just east of Austin, Texas. The fire burned rapidly out of control. By the end of the month, the fire had burned over 34,000 acres (13,800 hectares) and destroyed over 1,600 homes. According to media reports, the fire broke the record for the number of homes lost due to a single fire in Texas history.

Satellite image of Pagami Creek Fire 12 September 2011

Satellite image of Pagami Creek Fire
12 September 2011
Source: NASA

The Pagami Creek fire burned approximately 93,000 acres (37,600 hectares) in the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota during September and October. The fire was ignited on August 18th by a lightning strike. The fire was not initially suppressed to allow natural processes to take place in the forest. The fire had grown to only 13 acres (5 hectares) by September 12th. But after the 12th, strong winds and dry conditions caused the fire to grow rapidly out of control. The acreage burned is the tenth most by a single fire in Minnesota history, and the largest fire to affect the state since the Cloquet-Moose Lake Fire in 1918. By the end of September over 5.7 million dollars had been spent to control the wildfire.

Citing This Report

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Wildfires for Annual 2011, published online January 2012, retrieved on August 8, 2020 from https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/fire/201113.