The Largest Wildfires in U.S. History

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Several major wildfires raging across the west have grabbed headlines around the world in recent weeks. So far this year more than 39,000 wildfires have burned nearly 6.4 million acres in the United States. The number of wildfires this year represents about 80% of the ten-year average. However, the number of current acres burned represents a roughly 38% increase over the ten-year average at this point in the year. At more than 330,000 acres, the largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S. is in central Alaska. There are three other significant wildfires of note, the Soda Fire in Idaho, the Comet-Windy Ridge Fire in Oregon, and the Chelan Complex in Washington, which are currently burning more than 283,000, 103,000, and 69,000 acres, respectively.

As a result, the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group increased the National Fire Preparedness Level to its highest point last week.

Having looked at the current situation, I wanted to see where these fires stood when compared to the largest wildfires in U.S. history. The following are the top 10 largest wildfires in U.S. history, none of which include any of the fires currently burning:

1) The Great Fire of 1910: 3,000,000 acres - Killed 86 people, including 78 firefighters in Idaho, Montana and Washington. The fire destroyed enough timber to fill a freight train 2,400 miles long.

2) The Great Michigan Fire (1871): 2,500,000 acres - The Great Michigan Fire was a series of simultaneous forest fires that were possibly caused (or at least reinforced) by the same winds that fanned the Great Chicago Fire. Several cities, towns and villages, including Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron suffered serious damage or were lost.

3) Taylor Complex Fire (2004): 1,305,592 acres - The Taylor Complex Fire near Tok, Alaska was the largest wildfire by acreage during the 1997–2007 time period.

4) Peshtigo Fire (1871): 1,200,000 acres - The Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin killed over 1,700 people and has the distinction of causing the most deaths by fire in United States history.

5) Silverton Fire (1865): 1,000,000 acres - Oregon's worst recorded fire.

6) Thumb Fire (1881): 1,000,000 acres - Killed more than 200 people in Michigan.

7) Yellowstone (1988): 793,880 acres - The Yellowstone fires of 1988 in Wyoming and Montana were never controlled by firefighters. They only burned out when a snowstorm hit in early September. A whopping 36% of the park was affected by the wildfires.

8) Long Draw Fire and Miller Homestead Fire (2012): 719,694 acres - Oregon's largest fire in the last 150 years.

9) Murphy Complex Fire (2007): 653,100 acres - The fire was a combination of six wildfires caused by lightning in south-central Idaho and north-central Nevada that started on July 16–17, 2007.

10) Siege of 1987 (1987): 650,000 acres - These fires were started by a large lightning storm in late August, burning valuable timber primarily in the Klamath and Stanislaus National Forests in California.


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