World Facts

Largest Brush and Forest Fires In Recorded History

In terms of acreage engulfed in flames, these have been some of the biggest wildfires ever seen on earth.

14. 1881 Thumb Fire, U.S.A.

The fire that ravaged Michigan, USA from September 4th through 6th, 1881, came to be known as the Thumb Fire, due to the geographic region affected. The shape of the state of Michigan is described as a glove and the thumb area included the counties of Tuscola, Huron, Sanilac, and St. Clair. Hundreds lost their lives and over one million acres burned. 282 were recorded as dead, with 15,000 left homeless. Many were left blind due to the smoke and the landscape of the region was drastically altered. The Thumb Fire was the first official disaster relief operation to which the American Red Cross, founded that same year, responded.

13. 1865 Silverton Fire, U.S.A.

In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, USA the fire of 1865 burned over 988,000 acres. It is arguably the largest fire in Oregon’s history, but the expanse of forest that was destroyed left behind ash piles of up to ten inches deep. There seem to be no human fatalities as a result of this fire.

12. 2009 Black Saturday Fire, Australia

The Black Saturday Fires are a name given to a series of bush-fires that started on February 7th, 2009 in Victoria, Australia. Dry, hot climate, with heavy winds led to the spreading of the bush fires across 1,100,000 acres, killing 173 people and displacing 7,562 others. The energy released by the fires can be compared to that of hundreds of the atomic bombs. Firefighters were brought in from all over Australia, New Zealand, and the United States to stop the fire.

11. 2016 Fort McMurray Fire, Canada

The wildfire at that started in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on May 1st, 2016, has destroyed over 1.434, 780 acres, as of May 28th, 2016. The fire has resulted in one of the largest evacuations in Alberta’s history and loss of life has been minimal with only two fatalities as a result of a car collision during the evacuations. Economically it is one of the most expensive fires Canada has experienced, with estimated rebuilding costs expected to reach $9 billion Canadian Dollars. Oil sand production near Fort McMurray has stopped and Shell Canada stopped their mining operations as well.

10. 1871 Peshtigo Fire, U.S.A.

On October 8th, 1871, starting in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, North America experienced its worst forest fire. It extended across Northeastern Wisconsin and Northern Michigan. 1.5 million acres were affected and over one thousand people killed. The exact number of those killed is uncertain due to the fluctuating population of the time, but the fatalities are thought to be between 1,200 and 2,400 lives taken by the fire. About 800 people died from the Peshtigo valley alone. The fire finally stopped when it reached Green Bay and rain, as well as an end to the storm winds, put the fire out.

9. 2004 Taylor Complex Fire, U.S.A.

From late June until September 12th of 2004, the Taylor Complex Fire burned about 1,305, 592 acres in eastern Alaska, near the Canadian border. It contributed to Alaska’s record breaking 2004 fire season of over 6 million acres burned. There were no human causalities since the area was predominantly forested.

8. 2008 California Summer Wildfires, U.S.A.

During the summer of 2008, a total of 4,108 fires in California, due to lightning storms and drought conditions, contributed to one of the worst fires this century. The affected regions included Northern California and much of Central California, with the fire spreading over an area of 1,375,781 acres. Over 26,000 residents were evacuated and many lost their homes. Smoke and haze from the fires covered the region for much of the summer. What made these fires unprecedented and dangerous was the high number of fires so early in the season, burning concurrently over a long period of time. International aid was sent from Greece, Cyprus, Chile, Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Australia, among others. September 10th, 2008 marked the last day that fires were put under control.

7. 2011 Richardson Backcountry Fire, Canada

The Richardson Backcountry Fire of 2011 occurred in the province of Alberta, Canada, just north of Fort McMurray. The forest fire started in May of 2001 and burned until September, destroying over 1,700,000 acres of boreal forest. Oil mining in the area at Athabasca was stopped along with other evacuations in the area. There seem to have been no recorded fatalities. Firefighters were brought in from several provinces in Canada as well as from Mexico.

6. 1871 Great Michigan Fire, U.S.A.

The Great Michigan Fire of 1871 refers to the fires that occurred on October 8th, 1871 in Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee, all three towns in the U.S. state of Michigan. These were three of the five major fires that burned the same day, including the Great Chicago Fire and the Great Peshtigo Fire. Extended periods of drought and dry forests led to these fires. Since the majority of land which succumbed to the fire was wilderness there were a number of loggers and settlers who may have perished unaccounted. The uncertain death toll lies between 500 and 1000 lives.

5. 1910 Great Fire, U.S.A.

The Great Fire of 1910 was an accumulation of over one hundred fires thought to have been started by ashes that flew from the coal-powered trains which traversed the region, and into the dry forests of northern Idaho and western Montana. In just two days, August 20th and 21st of 1910, the fire consumed three million acres of forest area. 86 fatalities were recorded, the majority of which were firefighters. The smoke fire darkened the sky as far north as Saskatoon, Canada and as far south as Denver, to the east as far as New York and to the west about 500 miles out at sea. Ash from the fire was reported to have landed in Greenland. Rain and snow eventually extinguished the fire.

4. 1825 Miramichi Fire, Canada

On October 7th, 1825, six thousand square miles of the Miramichi region in New Brunswick, Canada fell victim to the Great Miramichi Fire. The fire traveled at one mile a minute, setting fire to ships in the Miramichi River and to towns along the river. About 160 people died as result of the flames. There may have been more fatalities due to the unknown number of settlers in the forests. Nevertheless, many people and animals survived by making use of the Miramichi River to deter flames. The lumber industry in the area was severely damaged but made a strong recovery, not necessarily a benefit for the forest. Ash levels also affected the fish habitat of the region. Newspapers of the time recorded the predominant feeling among the victims of the fire that this was Judgment Day.

3. 1950 Chinchaga fire, Canada

Due to drought conditions in the summer of 1950, the Chinchaga Fire, also known as the Wisp Fire, consumed between three million and four million acres in northern British Colombia and Alberta in Canada over a five month period. It is considered the largest fire ever to have been recorded in North America. The tremendous amount of smoke in the atmosphere as a result, was called the 1950 Great Smoke Pall, which made the sun and the moon appear blue across North America and Europe. No efforts were made to suppress the fire since it was not considered within reach of human settlements. Though no humans were killed, the aftermath included great environmental damage.

2. 1939 Black Friday Bushfire, Australia

In Victoria, Australia on January 13th, 1939, bush-fires were spurred on my drought conditions and heavy winds to create what came to be called the Black Friday Bushfire. Almost five million acres were burned and seventy-one people lost their lives along with the destruction of entire townships. Soil fertility and water reserves were also negatively affected.

1. 2003 Siberian Taiga Fires, Russia

The Siberian forest fires of 2003 resulted in about 47 million acres of land engulfed in flames. Emissions from these fires equaled the emission cuts promised by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol. Increasing temperatures and the thawing permafrost in Siberia are the most likely cause of the growing number and intensity of forest fires in Siberia. Satellite images of the fire show Eurasia covered in smoke. The effects of these fires are seen in present day environmental studies on ozone depletion.

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