Special Report

30 Most Destructive Wildfires in the US This Century

Source: Denis Torkhov / Getty Images

5. NW Oklahoma Complex
> Area burned: 779,292 acres
> State affected: Oklahoma
> Year: 2017
> Cause: Downed power line

Extreme drought, hot and dry air, a downed power line, and gusty winds combined to stoke wildfires in the Oklahoma Panhandle in March 2017. The Northwest Oklahoma Complex Fires were the largest group of fires and spanned the border between Oklahoma and Kansas. The fires had a catastrophic impact on the cattle industry, killing livestock and destroying grazing lands for animals that survived the blaze.

Source: Ashley Cooper / Getty Images

4. Solstice Complex
> Area burned: 812,771 acres
> State affected: Alaska
> Year: 2004
> Cause: Unknown

Prolonged dry weather and record heat temperatures in Alaska in mid-June were contributing factors to the Solstice Complex Fire — 19 separate fires — that burned more than 800,000 acres in the northern section of Alaska.

Source: National Weather Service

3. East Amarillo Complex
> Area burned: 907,245 acres
> State affected: Texas
> Year: 2006
> Cause: Unknown

The East Amarillo Complex fire, which broke out in the Texas Panhandle in March 2006, killed 12 people and burned almost 1 million acres. It is the largest complex fire in Texas history. The National Interagency Fire Center defines complexes as two or more fires burning in the same general area and managed as one event.

Source: Volodymyr Osypov / iStock via Getty Images

2. August Complex Fire
> Area burned: 1,032,648 acres
> State affected: California
> Year: 2020
> Cause: Lightning

The August Complex Fire in California began on Aug. 17 in the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity, and Six Rivers National Forests. It eventually spread over seven different counties. It was described as a “gigafire” as it engulfed over 1 million acres. It is considered the largest wildfire in not just California history, but of any wildfire found in the lower 48 states. It was just the second wildfire in U.S. history to burn over 1 million acres. The fire was fueled by an extended periods of drought prior to its beginning. After nearly three months, firefighters were able to contain the blaze.

1. Taylor Highway Complex
> Area burned: 1,303,358 acres
> State affected: Alaska
> Year: 2004
> Cause: Lightning

Fires erupted in Alaska in mid-June and eventually consumed more than 3.4 million acres by the end of the month. During the peak of the crisis, 466 firefighting personnel were assigned to the fire. Taylor Highway in eastern Alaska was the largest area impacted by the inferno, which raged into August, burning 1.3 million acres.

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