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Photos: Ten deadliest fires in U.S. history

The ongoing Black Forest fire in El Paso County has destroyed 483 homes at this writing, as well as killing two people -- and we're fortunate that the loss of life wasn't nearly great enough to land it on this Wikipedia's list of noteworthy wildfires. The page is an awful record of scorched land and the human cost that doesn't always correspond to acreage. Look below to see photos and Wiki text about the ten deadliest fires on the roster, with the number one blaze killing thousands and the tenth, which killed fifteen firefighters, taking place right here in Colorado.

Number 10: South Canyon fire, Colorado: 2,115 acres, 1994

"View showing the West Flank Fireline, looking northeast across the West Drainage."
"View showing the West Flank Fireline, looking northeast across the West Drainage."

"The South Canyon Fire was a 1994 wildfire that took the lives of 14 wildland firefighters on Storm King Mountain, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado on July 6th, 1994. It is often also referred to as the 'Storm King' fire."

Number 9: Rattlesnake Fire, California: 1,300 acres, 1953

"The Rattlesnake Fire was a wildfire started by an arsonist on July 9, 1953 in Grindstone Canyon in Mendocino National Forest in California. The wildfire killed one Forest Service employee and fourteen volunteer firefighters from New Tribes Mission, and burned over 1,300 acres (5.3 km2) before being extinguished on July 11, 1953. It became a well-known firefighting textbook case."

Continue to keep counting down the ten deadliest fires in U.S. history.

Number 8: The Great Fires of 1947, Maine: 175,000 acres

An AP photo shared by the town of Kennebunkport, Maine.
An AP photo shared by the town of Kennebunkport, Maine.

"The Great Fires of 1947 were a series of forest fires in the State of Maine in the United States that destroyed a total area of 17,188 acres (780 km²) of wooded land on Mount Desert Island and 200,000 acres state wide.[1] This disaster is an important part of the local history of the York County and Mount Desert Island areas.... 16 people killed."

Number 7: Oakland Hills firestorm, California: 1,520 acres, 1991

"The Oakland firestorm of 1991 was a large urban conflagration that occurred on the hillsides of northern Oakland, California, and southeastern Berkeley on Sunday October 20, 1991. The fire has also been called the Oakland hills firestorm or the East Bay Hills Fire. The fire ultimately killed 25 people and injured 150 others. The 1,520 acres (6.2 km²) destroyed included 3,354 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units. The economic loss has been estimated at $1.5 billion."

Continue to keep counting down the ten deadliest fires in U.S. history.

Number 6: Cedar fire, California: 280,278 acres, 2003

"Largest recorded fire in California history (see 1889 Santiago Canyon fire that may have been larger); burned 2,232 homes and killed 15 in San Diego County. Simultaneous with 15 other fires in Southern California (including the Old Fire) covering 721,791 acres (292,098 ha), killing 24, displacing 120,000 and destroying 3,640 homes. Damage from combined fires estimated at 2 billion USD."

Number 5: Great Fire of 1910, Idaho-Washington-Montana: 3 million acres

"The Great Fire of 1910 (also commonly referred to as the Big Blowup or the Big Burn) was a wildfire that burned about three million acres (12,000 km², approximately the size of Connecticut) in northeast Washington, northern Idaho (the panhandle), and western Montana. The area burned included parts of the Bitterroot, Cabinet, Clearwater, Coeur d'Alene, Flathead, Kaniksu, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, Lolo, and St. Joe national forests. The firestorm burned over two days (August 20-21, 1910), and killed 87 people, including 78 firefighters. It is believed to be the largest, although not the deadliest, fire in recorded U.S. history."

Continue to keep counting down the ten deadliest fires in U.S. history.

Number 4: Thumb fire, Michigan: 1 million acres, 1881

"The great Thumb Fire took place on September 5, 1881, in the Thumb area of Michigan in the United States. The fire, which burned over a million acres (4,000 km²) in less than a day, was the consequence of drought, hurricane-force winds, heat, the after-effects of the Port Huron Fire of 1871, and the ecological damage wrought by the era's logging techniques.

The blaze, also called the Great Thumb Fire, the Great Forest Fire of 1881 and the Huron Fire, killed 282 people in Sanilac, Lapeer, Tuscola and Huron counties. The damage estimate was $2,347,000."

Number 3: Hinckley fire, Minnesota: 200,000 acres, 1894

"The Great Hinckley Fire was a major conflagration on September 1, 1894, which burned an area of at least 200,000 acres (810 km2; 310 sq mi), perhaps more than 250,000 acres (1,000 km2; 390 sq mi), including the town of Hinckley, Minnesota. The fire killed hundreds, with the minimum number estimated at 418. However, some scholars believe the actual figure to be nearly 800. If so, this was the deadliest fire in the history of Minnesota."

Continue to keep counting down the ten deadliest fires in U.S. history.

Number 2: Cloquet fire, Minnesota-Wisconsin: 250,000 acres, 1918

"The 1918 Cloquet fire was a massive fire in northern Minnesota in October, 1918, caused by sparks on the local railroads and dry conditions. The fire left much of western Carlton County devastated, mostly affecting Moose Lake, Cloquet, and Kettle River. Cloquet was hit the hardest by the fires. It was the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history in terms of the number of lives lost in a single day. In total, 453 lives were lost and 52,000 people were injured or displaced, 38 communities were destroyed, 250,000 acres (1,000 km2) were burned, and $73 million in property damage was suffered. $13 million in Federal aid was disbursed."

Number 1: Peshtigo fire, Wisconsin: 1.2 million acres, 1871

"One of the few pieces of lumber to survive the fire."
"One of the few pieces of lumber to survive the fire."

"The Peshtigo Fire was a forest fire that took place on October 8, 1871 in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was a firestorm that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, killing as many as 1,500, possibly as many as 2,500. Occurring on the same day as the more famous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire has been largely forgotten. On the same day as the Peshtigo and Chicago fires the cities of Holland and Manistee, Michigan, across Lake Michigan, also burned, and the same fate befell Port Huron at the southern end of Lake Huron."

More from our News archive: "Update: Black Forest fire has destroyed 483 homes, two dead."


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