Data Source: California Air Resource Board Analysis by Beacon Economics
  • There were 372 wildfires reported in California, totaling approximately 2.5 million acres, in 2021. These wildfires released an estimated 85.1 million metric tons from Carbon Dioxide (CO2)34 in 2021, down from 106.7 million metric tons in 2020. This represents a 20.2 percent decrease from 2020 to 2021. Particulate matter emissions (PM 2.5 and PM 10) each decreased by 9 percent from 2020 to 2021. Wildfire emissions are not a part of the California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, as they are not anthropogenic emissions. However, as we have seen in recent years, they can contribute large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and should not be discounted. As they become more frequent, increasingly caused by human action and anthropogenic climate change, it is important to track GHG emissions from wildfires in California.
  • In 2022, state-reported data documented 305 wildfires, accounting for an estimated 0.3 million acres. This figure aligns closely with the total acreage reported in 2019. Notably, the aggregate wildfire area in 2022 constituted just one-tenth of the expansive wildfire area recorded in 2021. In 2022, these wildfires released an estimated 8.9 million metric tons from Carbon Dioxide (CO2),35 down significantly by 85 percent from 85.1 million metric tons in 2021. Even though the wildfire carbon emission decreased in both 2021 and 2022, it doesn't diminish the overall vulnerability of the landscape to wildfires or the impact of climate change. For example, after heavy rainfall in the final months of 2021, there was a prevailing belief that the threat of fires would diminish for a considerable period. While the data is unavailable, there were fewer fires in 2023 as a result of significant amount of rainfall and improvement of drought conditions. However, elevated temperatures mean that fire season is expanding and continues to pose a risk to Californians. The need to consider metrics beyond acreage, such as lives lost and environmental damage, is particularly important.

34 Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are associated with fuel consumption in both the flaming and smoldering phases of a wildfire event.

35 Ibid.