Special Report

The 13 Worst Wildfires in American History

Terrible wildfires burning in Canada this week have blanketed parts of the American Northeast, including New York City, in a thick haze. The smoke pollution is dangerous to breathe, containing particulates that can cause all kinds of serious health problems.

Wildfires have ravaged the United States for centuries, and many experts project they will only worsen along with climate change. In the nation’s history, fires have wreaked widespread destruction in major cities and in rural areas. 

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 2022, a reported 66,225 wildfires burned just over 7.5 million acres. (These are the most catastrophic fires and explosions in US history.)

To determine the worst wildfires in U.S. history, 24/7 Wall St. referenced 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 NIFC, more wildfires occur in the East, which includes central states, but the wildfires in the West are larger and burn more acreage. 

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

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