The 10 deadliest wildfires in US history

  • Throughout US history, wildfires have burned through populated areas, leaving destruction, homelessness, and casualties in their wake.
  • Death tolls from wildfires have been documented as far back as 1871.
  • California’s Camp Fire was the latest deadly travesty, as wildfires in the state become more frequent and pervasive.

In November 2018, the Camp Fire tore through Northern California, destroying the entire town of Paradise in less than a day. The blaze killed 85 people and scorched 153,336 acres – an area larger than the city of Chicago.

The fire was the deadliest in California history, but not the deadliest in the US overall. A series of five catastrophic fires between 1871 and 1918 have gone down in history as the country’s worst.

Here are the 10 deadliest wildfires in US history.


The 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona killed 19 firefighters.

The Yarnell Hill Fire started on June 28, 2013 in Yarnell, Arizona. The blaze is believed to have been ignited by a lightning strike. It burned more than 8,000 acres of land.

The blaze killed 19 firefighters who were unable to outpace the flames, making it the deadliest in Arizona history. It was the most fatal firefighter tragedy since the September 11 attack in 2001.


The Tubbs Fire in 2017 killed 22 people in Northern California.

The Tubbs Fire, which broke out in Northern California in October 2017, burned more than 36,800 acres across Sonoma and Napa counties. It killed 22 people and leveled thousands of homes. The blaze hit the city of Santa Rosa particularly hard, destroying 5% of the city’s housing stock.

The Tubbs Fire was one of more than 200 fires that hit the state of California in 2017.


The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991 claimed the lives of 25 people.

On October 19, 1991, a fire broke out in the hills of Oakland, California. The Oakland Hills Fire, as it came to be known, started as a wind-driven brush fire, but exploded into a firestorm that roared through upscale residential neighborhoods, engulfing thousands of homes.

Over the course of two days, the blaze spread across 1,520 acres and destroyed more than 3,000 homes and apartment buildings. The fire killed 25 people and injured at least 150 others, causing $1.5 billion in damages.


The Great Fire of 1910 burned an area the size of Connecticut in two days and killed 87 people.

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Wallace, Idaho was one of many towns destroyed in the blaze.
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Wikimedia Commons

The Great Fire is thought to be the largest wildfire in US history. Also known as the Big Burn, Big Blowup, or the Devil’s Broom fire, this blaze ravaged the states of Idaho and Montana in the summer of 1910.

Although the fire burned for just over two days, strong winds led the initial blaze to meld with other smaller fires to form a large conflagration. A staggering 3 million acres were burned. At least 85 people were killed.


The 2018 Camp Fire killed 85 people — the deadliest blaze in California history.

The Camp Fire was first reported on November 8, 2018 in Butte County. It grew rapidly, becoming the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. It was contained by November 25, but search and rescue efforts continued into December.

The fire burned through 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 homes. It claimed the lives of at least 85 people and caused at least three firefighter injuries.

The fire is estimated to have caused $7.5 billion to $10 billion in damages. Pacific Gas & Electric, the California utility giant that has filed for bankruptcy, admitted this week that its equipment probably caused the Camp Fire.


The Thumb Fire of 1881 killed at least 282 people in Michigan.

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St. Clair Tunnel, Port Huron, Michigan, USA, Detroit Publishing Company, 1900.
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Universal History Archive / Contributor

The Thumb Fire broke out in the Thumb region of eastern Michigan on September 5, 1881. It burned around 1 million acres as it spread from Lapeer County to Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, and Lapeer counties.

At least 282 people were killed by the wildfire. The flames produced so much soot and ash that the sun was partially obscured in the East Coast, turning the sky a yellowish color. The destructive power of the blaze is thought to have been exacerbated by dry summer conditions and drought.


The Great Hinckley Fire destroyed six towns and killed at least 418 people.

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The ruins of downtown Hinckley after the 1894 fire destroyed the city.
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Wikimedia Commons

The Great Hinckley Fire broke out near the logging town of Hinckley, Minnesota in September 1884. At the time, it was a common practice to strip trees of their branches before cutting them down for lumber, but that left pine forests filled with dry, dead branches.

The wildfire is thought to have been the product of several small fires that merged into one. Fueled by the flammable material on the forest floor, the wildfire burned 250,000 acres in just four hours. The death toll is officially recorded as 418, but historians believe hundreds of Native Americans were killed by the wildfire and left out of the fatality count.


The Great Michigan Fire of 1871 is thought to have caused around 500 deaths.

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Port Huron suffered serious damage from the 1871 blaze.
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Buyenlarge / Contributor

The Great Michigan Fire began as a series of smaller blazes in October 1871. The fires eventually coalesced, devastating the towns of Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee. The blaze damaged much of the Lake Michigan shoreline at the time as well.

The fire is estimated to have burned at least 3,900 square miles in Michigan, but historians have had difficulty calculating the number of fatalities due to the large number people reported missing after the catastrophe. It is estimated that the Great Michigan Fire killed around 500 people.


The Cloquet Fire killed over 550 people — the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history.

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The Cloquet Fire was really a group of fires, 50 or more, that combined into a single destructive event in Minnesota.
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Wikimedia Commons

On October 12, 1918, sparks from a local railroad led to a terrible blaze in Carlton County, Minnesota because of exceedingly dry conditions. The fire became the worst in state history.

About 35 communities were destroyed, with the town of Cloquet sustaining the most damage. More than 250,000 acres were burned and at least 550 people died. An estimated 12,000 people were injured or displaced. Including explosions and man-made fires, the Cloquet Fire is the sixth-most deadly fire disaster in American history overall.


The Peshtigo Fire was the deadliest in US history. It killed at least 1,152 people.

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A drawing of the Peshtigo Fire shows people seeking refuge in the Peshtigo River.
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Wikimedia Commons

The Peshtigo Fire struck Wisconsin in 1871 and claimed more lives than any other forest fire in US history. The blaze ignited on October 8 and raced through the area, burning around 1.2 million acres. At least 1,152 people were killed, though some estimates place the death toll closer to 2,500.

The Peshtigo Fire occurred on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, which overshadowed the Wisconsin blaze in news coverage.