Home U.S. News Here Are Past U.S. Wildfires That Turned Especially Deadly.

Here Are Past U.S. Wildfires That Turned Especially Deadly.

Here Are Past U.S. Wildfires That Turned Especially Deadly.

The urgent search for victims of the wildfires in Maui this week has evoked painful memories of dozens of other fatal blazes that have seared the American landscape, especially in the West.

Here are some of the deadliest U.S. wildfires of the last century.


Northern California

This wildfire, which stared in November 2018 in Butte County, Calif., is the deadliest and most destructive on record in a state where wildfires occur so regularly that residents refer to the dry-weather months of the year as fire season. At least 85 people were killed and more than a dozen others injured by the Camp Fire.

A faulty electric transmission line ignited the fire, and it spread quickly, burning about 153,000 acres. In the town of Paradise, 90 percent of the structures burned down and many residents moved away. Three years later, the community was still dotted with vacant lots, piles of debris and trailers where houses had once stood.



Nineteen firefighters were trapped and killed battling a fast-moving wildfire in June 2013 near the town of Yarnell, Ariz., northwest of Phoenix. The firefighters were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a specialist team of wildfire fighters based in Prescott, Ariz., that was established in 2002.

The blaze was ignited by a lightning strike, according to the National Weather Service. It destroyed 50 structures and burned over 8,000 acres of mountainous terrain.


San Francisco Bay Area

When a small fire broke out on private property in Oakland Hills, Calif., just east of the city of Oakland, in October 1991, firefighters extinguished the flames. But smoldering embers reignited it again the next day, and rising wins spread it quickly, leading to a two-day firestorm.

The fire killed 25 people and injured 150 others. More than two square miles of land was burned. Most of the devastation occurred in residential neighborhoods, where the fire destroyed more than 3,400 houses and apartment units and 2,000 automobiles.

The cause of the fire has never been determined. A report by The New York Times noted questions about whether the Oakland Fire Department had responded too slowly.


Los Angeles

For decades before the Camp Fire, this blaze held the grim distinction of the deadliest on record in California. The area burned was comparatively small — about 47 acres — but the toll was heavy: 29 laborers helping to fight the fire were killed.

When the fire broke out in October 1933, the United States was in the throes of the Great Depression and unemployment was high. When the fire broke out in parkland near Hollywood, thousands of laborers who had been hired by a federal public works program were already in or near the park, clearing brush, widening roads and doing maintenance work. About 4,000 men were hastily recruited to help fight the fire, although they were largely untrained.

The next day, a report in The New York Times said that the fire had started when a man performed the “careless act” of tossing a lit cigarette on the side of the road.


Northeast Minnesota

Sparks from a passing railroad train touched off a fire in October 1918 that grew to engulf nearly 250,000 acres of timberland and kill an estimated 1,000 people, according to the National Weather Service.

At the time, Northeast Minnesota was experiencing its driest season in nearly half a century, according to the Weather Service. Gusty winds peaking at 76 miles an hour spread the fire rapidly.

The fire quickly burned towns like Moose Lake, Cloquet and Kettle River. Train passengers recalled seeing several businesses go up in flames, including a local newspaper, a hotel and a church.

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