Special Report

The 13 Most Destructive Wildfires in US History

Wildfires have ravaged the United States for centuries, and climate change experts project they will only worsen with global warming. In the course of history, wildfires have caused massive destruction — whether in the countryside or major cities. 

Since 2000, an average of 70,072 wildfires a year have burned an average of 7.0 million acres. In the 1990s, the average acreage burned was less than half, at 3.3 million, though the average of annual wildfires was higher, at 78,600. In 2021, a reported 59,000 wildfires burned just over 7.1 million acres. (These are the worst climate related disasters since 2010.)

Even though the current figure might seem high, and it is, the National Interagency Coordination Center notes that the number of annual wildfires has actually decreased over the past 30 years. However, in this same time, the number of acres affected annually has generally increased. Ultimately, the data points to less fires, but with more severe impact.

To determine the worst wildfires in U.S. history, 24/7 Wall St. referenced Wikipedia for historical data on wildfires within the United States. Wildfires are ranked by the size of these wildfires in total acreage.

Recent years have been especially destructive for the West Coast, but the worst wildfires in U.S. history are also mostly in the West, but also the Midwest and South. (This is how much of every state has burned in wildfires.)

Different parts of the country do not necessarily carry the same risk of experiencing a fire hazard. In fact, according to the NICC, more wildfires occur in the East, which includes central states, but the wildfires in the West are larger and burn more acreage. In 2021, just over 23,000 wildfires burned 6.2 million acres in the West, compared with the over 35,000 fires that burned just under 1.0 million acres in the East.

Here’s a look at the 13 most destructive wildfires in US history:

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