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Valley and Butte Fires Now Among California's Most Destructive Blazes

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Firefighters with the Marin County Fire Department's Tamalpais Fire Crew monitor a backfire as they battle the Valley Fire on Sept. 13.  (Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

The most destructive wildfire in California history took place in 1991, when the Tunnel Fire swept through the Oakland and Berkeley hills, killing 25 and destroying 2,900 structures. The fifth-most-damaging wildfire ever to impact California took place in Shasta County in 1999, when the Jones Fire scorched 26,200 acres and destroyed 954 homes, outbuildings and commercial properties.

Cal Fire hasn’t yet completed full damage assessments for the Valley and Butte fires. But based on what’s known so far, the Valley Fire is ranked as the state’s ninth-most-damaging blaze in history, while the Butte Fire is being counted as the 14th.

And both are still burning.

“Information from the Butte Fire and Valley Fire will likely change until the fire is contained and the full damage assessment is complete,” Cal Fire noted when it released a list of the state's 20 most destructive blazes. When it comes to the number of structures leveled in the blazes, “The Valley Fire is likely to increase by several hundred.”

Mark Bove, a senior research meteorologist at an insurance company, said in an interview with Fortune that he believed the Valley Fire was on track to become the most destructive blaze in California history. His estimate is based on insurance losses; according to Fortune, the East Bay Hills fire resulted in an industrywide insurance cost of roughly $3 billion.


To date, authorities have confirmed that the Valley Fire caused one fatality and destroyed 603 structures in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties. The Butte Fire, meanwhile, leveled 408 structures in Amador and Calaveras counties.

While the full extent of the fire damage is still unknown, both wildfires are climbing Cal Fire’s list of the state's most destructive infernos, which dates back to 1923. As of Wednesday morning, the number of structures still threatened stood at 9,000 for the Valley Fire and 6,400 for the Butte Fire.

According to recent updates posted to Twitter by Cal Fire public information officer Daniel Berlant, fire crews had managed to contain the Valley Fire by 30 percent, but its size had increased to 70,000 acres. The Butte Fire, meanwhile, had scorched 71,780 acres and was 45 percent contained.

And with the caveat that it's subject to change, here is Cal Fire's list of the top 20 most destructive blazes.

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