clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Here’s how the Woolsey Fire stacks up to LA’s most destructive wildfires

New, 7 comments

The massive blaze is truly historic

Helicopter above Woolsey Fire
The Woolsey Fire is now one of the largest in LA County history.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Having claimed at least 1,500 structures, the Woolsey Fire is now far and away the most destructive wildfire ever to sweep through Los Angeles County.

It is the “largest fire on record,” Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said last week, pointing out that the blaze is now roughly the size of Denver.

At 96,949 acres, the fire still hasn’t burned through quite as wide an area as the Station Fire, which torched more than 160,000 acres of Angeles National Forest land in 2009.

And both fires pale in comparison to some of the largest in state history.

The Mendocino Complex Fire, which tore through Mendocino, Lake, Colusa, and Glenn counties earlier this year, was more than four times the size.

Still, few fires in the LA area have matched the scale of the Woolsey Fire, or its impact on the communities it has reached. The fire has claimed the lives of three people, and damaged hundreds of buildings that weren’t fully destroyed.

For historical context, here’s a look at some of the largest wildfires that have wreaked havoc on the LA area.

Station Fire (2009)

The 16th-largest fire in state history is suspected to be the work of an arsonist. The blaze broke out near Angeles Crest Highway and burned 160,557 acres, destroying 209 structures in the process. Two firefighters died battling the wildfire.

Sayre Fire (2008)

Unseasonably hot November temperatures allowed this wildfire to spread quickly through the Sylmar neighborhood, burning through hundreds of residences in a mobile home community. No deaths were caused by the 11,262-acre fire, but more than 600 structures were lost, according to a report from the county.

Old Topanga Fire (1993)

Burning a little under 17,000 acres, the Old Topanga Fire was a fraction of the size of the Woolsey Fire, but had a similarly devastating impact on the city of Malibu. The fire began close to Mulholland Highway and Old Topanga Road. It spread quickly to Pacific Coast Highway before firefighters were able to contain the flames.

The fire killed three people and destroyed 388 structures. The Sheriff’s Department initially blamed two firefighters for starting the fire, but charges against them were later dropped.

Clampitt/Wright Fire (1970)

Two separate wildfires merged in 1970, creating a massive inferno that burned a combined 135,000 acres between Malibu and Newhall Pass. Four people were killed in the fires, and nearly 200 structures were lost. They included an abandoned film set at Spahn Ranch, from which the followers of Charles Manson had launched a gruesome killing spree only a year earlier.

Fire ruins
Wreckage caused by the Sayre Fire.
David McNew/Getty Images
Bel Air-Brentwood Fire
A house burns during the Bel Air-Brentwood Fire.
Los Angeles Public Library

Bel Air-Brentwood Fire (1961)

This wildfire was relatively small—it burned less than 6,100 acres—but ravaged more than 500 structures in some of the nation’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Movie stars Zsa Zsa Gabor and Burt Lancaster lost their homes, while future president Richard Nixon took to the roof of a house he was renting and sprayed down the structure with a garden hose to make it more fire-resistant.

Griffith Park Fire (1933)

This Depression-era wildfire was barely a flareup compared to the other fires on this list, but until this month, it was the deadliest in state history. The 47-acre blaze started as thousands of workers were building and maintaining trails in the park. Workers were ordered to control the burning, but dozens became trapped in a canyon as the fire grew, and 29 of the workers died in the flames.

Griffith Park

4730 Crystal Springs Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027 (323) 913-4688 Visit Website