The 10 Largest and Most Destructive Wildfires in U.S. History

Fire Safety Matters

Burnout at B&B complex
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Recent fires that we've seen in the news are considered some of the worst America has had in many years. But just how do these fires compare in size to others in U.S. history? What were some of the other largest fires in U.S. history?

10. Wallow Fire. Named for the Bear Wallow Wilderness Area where the fire originated, the Wallow Fire burned 538,049 acres in Arizona and New Mexico in 2011. It was caused by an abandoned campfire.

The Wallow fire caused the evacuation of more than 6,000 people as well as the destruction of 32 homes, four commercial buildings and 36 outbuildings. The estimated cost of damages was $109 million.

9. Murphy Complex Fire. This fire was actually a combination of six wildfires that merged together to create one huge blaze. The Murphy Complex Fire hit Idaho and Nevada in 2007, burning roughly 653,100 acres.

8. Yellowstone Fires. When most people think about wildfire, they think about the destructive Yellowstone Fires of 1988 that burned 793,880 acres in Montana and Wyoming. Similar to the Murphy Complex Fire, the Yellowstone Fire began as many small fires that merged into one large conflagration. Due to the fire, Yellowstone National Park was closed to all non-emergency personnel for the first time in the park's history.

7. Silverton Fire. Burning 1 million acres in 1865, the Silverton Fire remains the worst recorded fire in Oregon state's history.

6. Peshtigo Fire. You have probably heard of the Great Chicago Fire that took place on October 8, 1871. But you may not have realized that there were other, far more destructive blazes that happened on the very same day. One of these was the Peshtigo Fire that burned 1.2 million acres in Wisconsin and killed over 1,700 people.

This fire still carries the dubious distinction of being the cause of the most human deaths by fire in U.S. history. 

5. Taylor Complex Fire. The year 2004 was a devastating year for Alaska in terms of wildfires. The 1.3 million acres burned in the Taylor Complex Fire were just a small portion of the 6.6 million acres burned elsewhere in the state. 

4. California Summer Fires of 2008. So much of California was burning in 2008 that all of the fires were merged together to include more than 1.5 million acres of burned California land. In all, there were 4,108 fires that burned in California during the summer of 2008. Nearly 100 of these fires burned more than 1,000 and many burned tens or even hundreds of thousands of acres. 

3. Great Michigan Fire. Like the Peshtigo Fire, the Great Michigan Fire was overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire that blazed on the same day. The Great Michigan Fire burned 2.5 million acres in Michigan, destroying thousands of homes and businesses in its path.

2. and 1. The Great Fire of 1910 and the Miramichi Fire of 1825. These two fires tie for being the largest wildland fires in U.S. history. The Great Fire of 1910 included 78 wildfires that burned 3 million acres in Idaho, Montana, and Washington, killing 86 people.

The Miramichi Fire burned 3 million acres in Maine and New Brunswick, killing 160 people. 

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Savedge, Jenn. "The 10 Largest and Most Destructive Wildfires in U.S. History." ThoughtCo, Sep. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/the-largest-wildfires-in-us-history-1140876. Savedge, Jenn. (2017, September 18). The 10 Largest and Most Destructive Wildfires in U.S. History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-largest-wildfires-in-us-history-1140876 Savedge, Jenn. "The 10 Largest and Most Destructive Wildfires in U.S. History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-largest-wildfires-in-us-history-1140876 (accessed September 22, 2017).