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The 5 Most Destructive California Wildfires on Record

A look at five of the most destructive fires in California history and how they started

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The 5 Most Destructive California Wildfires on Record
    Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images (File)
    FILE - Homes are shown in ruins after the Witch fire raged through Northern Rancho Bernardo, California, Oct. 24, 2007.

    California is facing one of the worst times of the year for wildfires. Five of the state's 10 most damaging fires have occurred in October, including the devastating 1991 Oakland Hills fire that resulted in 25 deaths and burned nearly 3,000 structures. 

    Below, a look at the five most-damaging wildfires recorded in California. The figures, obtained from CAL FIRE, are based on the number of structures — homes, barns, garages, sheds, commercial properties and other buildings — that were destroyed. 

    Note: The list does not include the October 2017 fires burning in Northern California. Authorities continue to gather estimates on the number of structures destroyed in California's wine country.

    Oakland Hills Fire, October 1991

    Also called the Tunnel fire, the firestorm scorched hillsides in northern Oakland and southeastern Berkeley during an October weekend. Responsible for 25 deaths, it remains the most destructive wildfire on record in California. The fire, rekindled from an earlier grass fire, burned only 1,600 acres — not large when compared to other wildfires on the list. But it was located in a densely populated area with houses and other buildings in its path and ended up destroying 2,900 structures. Fanned by powerful wind gusts, the flare-up grew into a wall of fire that left some residents trapped in an inferno.

    Cedar Fire, October 2003

    The catastrophic San Diego County Cedar fire remains the largest fire in California history. The 273,000-acre firestorm wiped out 2,820 structures and resulted in 15 deaths. The fire was started by a lost hunter who started a signal fire in Cleveland National Forest near Julian. It grew into a burning monster that stormed through wilderness areas and rural communities.

    Valley Fire, September 2015

    The 76,000-acre fire burned nearly 2,000 structures in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties. In just about 24 hours, strong wind gusts pushed the fire to about 50,000 acres after it was started by a faulty electrical connection that caused nearby dry grass to ignite. Four residents were killed.

    Witch Fire, October 2007

    Damaged power lines caused arcing that set off another monstrous fire in San Diego County. The 197,990-acre Witch fire destroyed 1,650 structures. It burned during an onslaught of large wildfires in Southern California that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in October 2007.

    Old Fire, October 2003

    A 91,200-acre fire that burned 1,650 structures in San Bernardino County was set by a man in a fit of rage after a dispute with his godfather, according to prosecutors. Rickie Lee Fowler, convicted of murder and arson, was sentenced to death. Six deaths were reported in the fire, which began after a lighted road flare was tossed into the brush.