The 2020 Bay Area Fire
Bloomberg Creative / Getty Images

The Worst Wildfires in U.S. History

View Slideshow
The 2020 Bay Area Fire
Bloomberg Creative / Getty Images
Dixie Fire
Dixie Fire by Frank Schulenburg (CC BY-SA)

The 2021 Dixie Fire

California


Last year, nearly 1 million acres burned across Northern California after a heatwave hit the state in June 2021 and faulty equipment owned by California Public Utilities Commission blew several fuses near a tree. The fire demolished approximately 1,300 structures in its path. The Dixie Fire is known as the second-largest fire in the state's history. Government agencies spent about $540 million to fight the fire, and three firefighters died.


Related: The Deadliest Hurricanes and Other Natural Disasters in the U.S.

The 2020 Bay Area Fire
The 2020 Bay Area Fire by Inklein (CC BY-SA)

The 2020 Bay Area Fire

California


One of the largest wildfires in West Coast history, the 2020 Bay Area Fire started in the Bay area of California because of a siege of dry lightning after particularly intense summer thunderstorms and spread across parts of Washington state and Oregon as well. At least 35 people were killed, and nearly 1 million acres were destroyed. Photos of the wildfires went viral on social media, as the skies turned a shade of orange seen only in sci-fi movies.


For more stories of American history,please sign up for our free newsletters.

The 2018 Camp Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The 2018 Camp Fire

California


The deadliest wildfire in California history, the 2018 Camp Fire burned for weeks before it was declared contained on Nov. 25. A total of 85 people were killed, 19,000 homes were burned to the ground, and more than 153,000 acres of land were destroyed. Search-and-rescue missions were conducted well into December of 2018.


Related: Companies That Benefit From Natural Disasters

The 1991 Oakland Hills Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The 1991 Oakland Hills Fire

California


The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 started as a brush fire and was fueled by strong winds. Over the course of the two-day blaze, the brush fire became a firestorm, spreading across more than 1,500 acres of land and killing more than two dozen people. The fire also burned some 3,000 homes to the ground.


Related: Natural Wonders to Appreciate Before They're Gone

The Lodgepole Complex Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The Lodgepole Complex Fire

Montana


In July 2017, the Lodgepole Complex Fire became the state's biggest wildfire of the year when four wildfires in the area merged into one, scorching at least 220,000 acres of land. The Lodgepole Complex Fire destroyed at least 16 homes. Much of the grazing land for cattle in the area was also destroyed, causing farmers to relocate their animals.

2017 Tubbs Fire
2017 Tubbs Fire by melia robbinson (CC BY-SA)

The 2017 Tubbs Fire

California


One of the more recent wildfires in American history, the Tubbs Fire, was caused by a faulty private electrical system in October 2017 and destroyed more than 36,800 acres of land from Sonoma to Napa. The fire wasn't contained until Halloween of that year. Over the course of the blaze, 22 people were killed, and a total of 5,643 buildings were destroyed. More than a dozen fires had broken out across the area at the same time, which is why the Tubbs Fire is also called the Northern California Firestorm.

The 2013 Yarnell Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The 2013 Yarnell Fire

Arizona


Believed to have been started by a lightning strike, the Yarnell Hill Fire started in June 2013 and burned for about two weeks, destroying more than 8,000 acres of terrain. In total, 19 firefighters lost their lives, 50 buildings were destroyed, and hundreds were evacuated from their homes. It is both the largest and deadliest wildfire in the history of Arizona.

The Alaska Fire Season of 2004
Patrick J. Endres / Getty Images

The Alaska Fire Season of 2004

The fire season of 2004 burned more than 6.6 million acres of land, making it the worst on record for the state of Alaska. Over the course of the year, there were a total of 701 fires, with most started by people and around 215 caused by lightning strikes. Most of the fires were the result of unusual Alaskan weather conditions.  

 

Related: 'Atmospheric Rivers' and Other Truly Bizarre Weather Phenomena

The 1988 Yellowstone Fires
Wikimedia Commons

The 1988 Yellowstone Fires

Idaho, Montana, Wyoming


Burning over the course of multiple months, the Yellowstone Fires started due to a combination of droughts and strong winds and destroyed 36% of the park and claimed the lives of two civilians. Nearly 1,000 firefighters and thousands of military personnel worked to stop the fire, but in the end, it was the cooler, moist fall weather that put the fires out.   

 

Related: 35 Surprising Facts About America's National Parks

The 1918 Cloquet Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The 1918 Cloquet Fire

Minnesota

 

In October 1918, a wildfire took over Carlton Country, Minnesota, burning more than 250,000 acres of land, taking at least 500 lives, and displacing thousands of people. The Cloquet Fire was started by railroad sparks and snowballed due to the driest weather conditions in nearly 50 years.

The 1902 Yacolt Burn
Wikimedia Commons

The 1902 Yacolt Burn

Washington


More than a dozen fires burned over the course of four days in September 1902 across Washington state. Collectively, the fires burned about half a million acres of land, took 65 lives, and left nearly 150 families homeless. Part of the reason the Yacolt Burn was able to char so much land is that there were no organized fire fighting systems in place at the time. For more than a century, the Yacolt Burn held the record for the largest forest fire in Washington's history. The fire started from a combination of a dry, windy summer and an excess of logging debris from several summers before. 


The 1894 Great Hinckley Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The 1894 Great Hinckley Fire

Minnesota


The Great Hinckley Fire of 1894 killed more than 400 people, but the actual number of deaths was not documented, as Native Americans were not included in the fatality count. This fire charred more than 250,000 acres in a matter of hours. It was able to move so quickly because the pine forests were filled with dead branches, feeding the flames.

The 1881 Thumb Fire
Public Domain / Getty Images

The 1881 Thumb Fire

Michigan


In September of 1881, a multi-day wildfire in the Thumb region of eastern part of Michigan brought devastation to the area.The fire was so intense that the sun was partially blocked and turned the sky yellow. The Thumb Fire decimated around 1 million acres of land across multiple counties and took nearly 300 lives.


 


The 1871 Peshtigo Fire
Wikimedia Commons

The 1871 Peshtigo Fire

Wisconsin


The 1871 Peshtigo Fire started in October of 1871 and took anywhere from 1,200 to 2,400 lives, taking more lives than any other wildfire in the country's history. More than 1.5 million acres of land burned, but because this fire happened at the same time as the Great Chicago Fire, it was overshadowed and largely forgotten about.

Forest fire damage with smoke.
RyersonClark/istockphoto

The Miramichi Fire of 1825

Maine

The Miramichi Fire of 1825 started in Canada, but it made it across the border into Maine as well. The fire burned for a day and a half, destroying about 20% of the forests in New Brunswick and scorching around 1,300 square miles of Maine. The fire destroyed most of New Brunswick, taking the lives of 160 people, including the prisoners in Newcastle Jail, and nearly every home and business.