Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Jennifer K. Balch

Second Advisor

Colleen E. Reid

Third Advisor

Katja Friedrich


Wildfires have burned about 2 million hectares annually in the United States since 1988 with the influences of anthropogenic climate change, long-term suppression policies, and annual burned area predicted to increase. Since the early 2000s, changes in wildfire characteristics, including large, destructive fires occurring in places that had not experienced such fires in the past, has led to the use of the term “megafire” among researchers, fire managers, and the public. While the term is familiar to nearly everyone, there is no single, consistent, quantitative definition of a megafire. To investigate the megafire phenomenon, we analyzed researchers described megafires by keeping track of specific terms used throughout academic literature. We also noted all wildfires cited as megafires at least twice by different sources in both academia and the media; creating a dataset of commonly cited megafires. Using these commonly cited megafires, we propose that megafire classification does not fit under a single overarching definition, but instead three definitions need to be investigated.