Special Report

30 Most Destructive Wildfires in the US This Century

The recent wildfires in the West have burned more than 5 million acres in Oregon, California, and Washington state, displacing thousands of residents and claiming the lives of 27 people. A massive orange haze produced by the inferno in mid-September drifted across the nation to the East Coast. As of Sept. 17, there were 79 active wildfires in 10 states, all of them in the western United States, according to the National Fire Information Center. Through Sept. 17, there have been 42,512 fires this year covering 6.9 million acres.

This year’s wildfires will undoubtedly take their place among the most devastating in American  history. 24/7 Wall St. has created a list of the most destructive wildfires in the U.S. this century. We reviewed data on wildfires that burned 100,000 acres or more in this century from the National Interagency Fire Center’s Fire (NIFC) and Aviation Management Web Applications Program to compile our list.

Click here to see the most destructive wildfires in the U.S. this century.
Click here to read our methodology.

Fires can occur anywhere, at any time, but certain conditions can drastically increase the risk and severity of fires. Drought, for example, dries out flora, which becomes flammable, creating conditions for an easily spreadable forest fire. Many of the wildfires on the list are classified as complex fires. The NIFC defines complexes as two or more fires burning in the same general area and managed as one event.

The devastating forest fires have raised issues about the role human-induced climate change and development that encroaches on forests play in fires. Other issues considered include the need for controlled burns and other methods to limit the buildup of dead trees and brush that fuel wildfires.  

Because of extended drought, high temperatures, and dry grasslands, the western continental states and Alaska have fallen victim to most of the severe wildfires in the nation’s history. These fires have also been some of the nation’s worst natural disasters. Here is the worst natural disaster in every state.