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15 Of The Most Destructive Wildfires Ever Recorded

15 Of The Most Destructive Wildfires Ever Recorded

Whether it is earthquakes, tsunamis or massive wildfires, nature has always had a way to remind us of the forces that should not be reckoned with. Throughout the world, wildfires are a yearly phenomenon, triggered usually by natural reasons like lightning or by irresponsible people. They can be quite sneaky, only making their presence known once they have spread on a large scale and are out of control.

They also spread quickly, destroying any vegetation and homes along the way and resulting in the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Unfortunately, these rampant blazes are increasingly becoming the norm during this time of the year, making a lot of climate scientists nervous who now believe this to be one of the effects of global warming. That is exactly why we have compiled a list of some of the most destructive wildfires in human history so that the next time you’re out camping or visiting the forest, you think twice before tossing a cigarette or leaving a campfire behind.

15. Mari Wildfires of 1921


Wildfires can cause a lot of damage to property and industry, leaving some serious repercussions for growth in the future. The summer of 1921 proved to be an unfortunate time period for the Mari Autonomous Oblast, a region to the east of European Russia.

The wildfires that most probably started due to the extreme weather were made even worse by strong winds which allowed them to spread, damaging almost 2,660 square kilometers of pine forest. This was not all though as the fire also managed to kill 35 humans and around 1,000 cattle in an area which was already paralyzed by the Povolzhye famine. More than 60 villages were also destroyed by the time the wildfire was finally under control.

14. The Oakland Firestorm


One of the worst urban blazes to occur in modern history, the Oakland Firestorm ended up destroying more than 1,520 acres of land which included thousands of homes, apartments and other residential areas. What started as a small grass fire in Berkeley Hills quickly grew into a blaze because of the strong seasonal “Diablo winds”.

This proved to be an event which carried the biggest number of financial damages to have ever occurred because of a wildfire since it was a very densely populated area. At the end of the day, the damages were estimated to be almost $1.5 billion.

13. 2007 California Fires


California is known for its recurring droughts which normally lead to numerous wildfires in the state each year. While each season seems to top the last, the 2007 wildfires, in particular, are notable for causing the largest evacuation in California history.

These fires were responsible for destroying almost 1,500 homes in the San Diego area alone and displacing more than 1 million people. To understand the true scale of the area which was covered by these blazes, you should be aware of the fact that these stretched all the way from Santa Barbara County to the U.S-Mexico border, an area which is more than 500,000 acres. It could even be observed from space which showed the true magnitude of this disaster.

12. Black Saturday Bushfires


Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on this planet, however, it seems as if the weather out there isn’t very friendly either. The Black Saturday Bushfires is the name used for the series of bushfires that were ignited across the state of Victoria on a Saturday, February 7, 2009. These fires were the worst bushfire disaster in Australia’s history, resulting in the deaths of 173 people while injuring 414 more.

It was reported that almost 400 individual fires had spread across the state and a total of 358 firefighting personnel were deployed to combat these which proved too much to handle. The date of February 7 is now referred to in Australia as Black Saturday.

11. Yellowstone Fires of 1988


The summer of 1988 saw one of the biggest wildfire breakouts in the history of Yellowstone National Park. This incident was heavily covered by the media for two reasons, first because of the size of the blaze and secondly due to the importance of Yellowstone as one of the most famous national parks in the world.

More than 2 million acres of land or one-third of the park was scorched because of this massive fire. The good news is that the park has made an excellent recovery since then and stricter guidelines for dealing with natural fires have been enacted by the U.S Forest Service.

10. The Great Porcupine Fire


Despite all of our technological and scientific achievements, the forces of nature are still something that cannot be reckoned with. In the year 1911, one of the most devastating wildfires ended up destroying a large part of the Ontario Northland, Canada. This was named as the Great Porcupine Fire, the cause of which is also believed to be a hot dry spell that arrived after spring and lasted well into the summer.

Numerous small fires converged to form one big wildfire which was responsible for destroying more than 500,000 acres of pristine forest. The death toll was also pretty high with estimates ranging from at least seventy to as many as a few hundred.

9. Black Dragon Fire


You probably guessed it from the name that this event was not a small one, after all, dragons are only usually associated with fires and destruction. This massive wildfire ended up not only causing large scale destruction in China but also in the Soviet Union, resulting in one of the worst economic disasters of the world.

The fire was the largest to hit China in over 300 years as it destroyed more than 18 million acres of forest across both the countries and burned one sixth of China’s entire timber reserves. It was also responsible for the deaths of over 200 people while rendering almost 33,000 Chinese homeless. The actual cause of this fire still remains unknown to this day, however, excessive cutting down of trees in the region has been reported as a contributing factor as to why the fire was able to spread so quickly.

8. The Great Chicago Fire


The Great Chicago Fire is an incident that happened on October 8, 1871, which destroyed almost 9 square kilometers of Chicago, Illinois. It is regarded as one of the worst fire disasters to ever happen in the United States. While no definite cause of this disaster has been determined, it is widely speculated that the fire started in the barn belonging to the O’Leary family, later turning into a blaze which left more than 100,000 people homeless.

One of the biggest factors that had contributed to the spread of this fire was that most buildings in Chicago at the time were made entirely of wood and their roofs had been topped with highly flammable tar. The fire finally burned out after two days and resulted in the death of almost 300 people, leaving behind smouldering remains of what was once a bustling city.

7. Texas City Disaster


This is an example of an event where a lot of things go wrong at once, ending in a massive disaster. Also, chemicals and fire are never a good combination. On April 16, 1947, the deadliest industrial accident to ever happen in the history of the United States resulted in the deaths of more than 581 people.

It all started when a fire, which was possibly ignited by a discarded cigarette started spreading throughout the cargo-hold of the docked SS Grandcamp which was carrying almost 2,200 tons of ammonium nitrate. Efforts to contain this fire proved futile as heat and pressure started to build inside the vessel. The ammonium nitrate eventually reached an explosive threshold, resulting in a blast that sent 15-foot waves off the Texas shoreline and leveled more than 1,000 buildings on land.

6. The Greek Forest fires of 2007


The year 2007 it seems was the year of wildfires around the world. On one side, we had California which was covered in a massive blaze while on the other side were fires that broke out across Greece. These lethal infernos expanded exponentially and raged out of control, resulting in the death of 84 people including several firefighters.

Nearly 670,000 acres of forest and farmland were destroyed, making it the worst fire season in the past 50 years of Greek history. The cause for most of these fires is said to have been arson while others were the result of gross negligence.

5. The Great Hinckley Fire


On September 1, 1894, the pine forests of Minnesota were set ablaze because of the severe drought combined with extremely high temperatures. What started out as several small fires eventually turned into a massive firestorm because of temperature inversion, allowing the surrounding temperature to rise to a blistering 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius).

This resulted in the deaths of more than 418 people, officially making it one of the deadliest fire related incidents in Minnesota history. According to the Hinckley Fire Museum, by the time the firestorm had settled down, it had completely destroyed six towns with a collective area of over 1,000 square kilometers and everything here lay black and smoldering. Today, the Hinckley Fire Museum can be visited for memorials dedicated to the fire and the devastation that it had caused.

4. The Great Thumb Fire


On September 5, 1881, the sky in the Thumb area of Michigan turned yellow and the sun was obscured to the point that twilight occurred at 12 noon. This happened because of the Great Thumb Fire which burned an area of almost one million acres in less than a day and caused the deaths of 282 people in the nearby counties.

The cause of this fire is said to have been a combination of intense heat, drought, and strong winds. It started in Huron County and within a few hours, spread to the nearby cities of Huron and Grindstone. Destroying over 2000 bars, houses, and schools, the fire caused almost $2,347,000 ($58,246,066 after adjustment for inflation) in damages and left 14,000 people to be dependent on public aid.

3. The Yarnell Hill Fire


While a number of factors can be the cause of wildfires, one of the most common is lightning. This is exactly what happened near Yarnell, Arizona on June 28, 2013, when a wildfire was ignited by lightning. While only 8,400 acres of land was burnt, which is considerably less than some of the other entries on this list, the Yarnell Hill Fire ended up being responsible for the deaths of 19 firefighters, making it one of the deadliest incidents of any kind for U.S firefighters.

This fire was also responsible for the destruction of 127 buildings in Yarnell while almost 600 people had to be evacuated after an evacuation shelter was setup in a nearby school.

2. The Wallow Fire


This fire was named after the Bear Wallow Wilderness area which is located in the White Mountains near Alpine, Arizona. It was started by two men who left behind an abandoned campfire on May 11, 2011. Firefighters were only able to contain the blaze on July 8, nearly two months later, during which the fire had burned through 522,642 acres of land in both Arizona and New Mexico.

Despite being one of the largest fires to occur in Arizona History, no one died and it only resulted in the evacuation of six-thousand people. The two campers later pleaded guilty to misdemeanour charges and were ordered to pay $3.7 million in restitution.

1. Medieval Fire Of London


For a lot of people, the Great Fire of London refers to the 1666 disaster that destroyed a lot of buildings in the city but caused relatively few deaths. We are referring to a much worse disaster that happened in the year 1212, also known as the Great Fire of Southwark. It is said to have started south of river Thames, eventually spreading across the whole city.

The biggest loss of life in this disaster, however, occurred on the London Bridge where people fleeing from the fire and those coming to help converged simultaneously. This caused both parties to be trapped on the bridge since the fire had spread to both sides of the river. An account written by John Stow in 1603 stated that almost 3,000 people had died that day, making this one of the deadliest wildfire disasters to ever occur in human history.

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