10 Largest Wildfires in U.S. History

Published:December 13, 2022
November 8, 2023

Explore the details of the top 10 largest wildfires in U.S. history, from the Dixie Fire in California to the Yarnell Fire in Arizona with this list from the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

An orange cloud of smoke rising above a dark forest.
Climate change is making wildfires larger and more destructive, but not all of the largest fires in the US have happened in recent history.

There have been countless wildfires in United States’ history, and some of them turned into huge conflagrations that created almost unimaginable levels of destruction. While most of the biggest wildfires only destroyed acreage and structures, at least on paper, there are a few that left a considerable death toll behind – not to mention the incalculable losses of animals and vegetation.

Here are the top 10 biggest wildfires in US history (unranked).

Fire #1: 1825 Miramichi Fire

Date: 1825

Location: Maine

Acres Burned: 3,000,000 acres

Deaths: 160 people

The biggest wildfire in recorded US history is the 1825 Miramichi Fire. It blazed through an estimated 3,000,000 million acres and claimed at least 160 lives. That makes it not just one of the most widespread fires, but also one of the deadliest.1 Most of the burning took place in New Brunswick, Canada, but the flames also spread down into the state of Maine. People and animals were reported to be fleeing the fire down the Miramichi River, which also shares its name with a city in Canada where the fire did the most damage.2

Fire #2: August Complex

Date: August 2020

Location: Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, Glenn, Lake, and Colusa counties, California

Acres Burned: 1,032,648 acres

Deaths: 1 person

The August Complex fire was a merging of 37 separate fires at once in Mendocino County, California. It was the largest wildfire on record in the state’s history, but it was also just one of a long list of fires that plagued California through its long 2020 fire season. The low death toll is incredible considering the August Complex fire burned through a whopping 1,032,648 acres.3

Fire #3: Dixie Fire

Date: July 2021

Location: Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta, and Tehama counties, California

Acres Burned: 963,309 acres

Deaths: 1 death

The Dixie Fire in Butte County, California is the state’s second-largest wildfire. Beginning on July 13th, 2021, it burned nearly 1 million acres and caused 1 death over the course of the next 3 months. The blaze was not fully contained until October 26th, 2021.4 Even then, it took the efforts of thousands of firefighters implementing all kinds of fire suppression techniques to wrest the Dixie Fire under control.5

Fire #4: Mendocino Complex

Date: July 2018

Location: Colusa, Lake, Mendocino, and Glenn counties, California

Acres Burned: 459,123 acres

Deaths: 1 death

The Mendocino Complex Fire was another grouping of smaller fires that came together to form a larger blaze. At the time, it was the biggest wildfire in California’s history. It started when a property owner in the northern part of the state was hammering a metal stake into the ground. A spark flew off and ignited the initial blaze.6 A total of 459,123 acres were burned, and 1 person lost their life. Like the Dixie Fire, it took 3 months to contain the Mendocino Complex.7

The outline of burned trees against a dark sky with reddish clouds. On the left, a few bright spots show small fires in the distance.
Good land management practices, such as prescribed burning, help to lessen the risk of highly destructive fires.

Fire #5: The Great Fire Of 1910

Date: Summer 1910

Location: Idaho, Montana, and Washington

Acres Burned: 3,000,000 acres

Deaths: 87 people

The Great Fire of 1910 is aptly named. Despite only lasting for 2 days, it did many lifetimes’ worth of damage. It burned through around 3,000,000 acres throughout Idaho, Montana, and Washington. In addition, the blaze killed a staggering 87 people. It’s considered one of the worst fires in US history.8

Fire #6: Peshtigo Fire

Date: October 1871

Location: Wisconsin

Acres Burned: over 1,000,000 acres

Deaths: over 1,500 people

Not many people know about the Peshtigo Fire of 1871. That’s because this wildfire happened at the same time as the more infamous Great Chicago Fire which completely destroyed the city. The reality is that the Peshtigo Fire was both larger and deadlier. In fact, it is counted as the deadliest fire in US history because it claimed over 1,500 people’s lives.9

Fire #7: Great Michigan Fire

Date: October 1871

Location: Michigan

Acres Burned: 2,500,000 acres

Deaths: 250 people or less

The Great Michigan Fire occurred alongside the Peshtigo Fire and the Great Chicago Fire. It is estimated to have burned through 2.5 million acres. While the official death toll is unknown, experts place it at less than 250 people.10

Fire #8: Yarnell Hill Wildfire

Date: June 28, 2013

Location: Yarnell, Arizona

Acres Burned: 8,400 acres

Deaths: 19 people

The Yarnell Fire in Arizona may not look very big compared to the Miramichi Fire in Maine or the August Complex in California, but it was both the biggest and the deadliest wildfire in the history of Arizona. It burned 8,400 acres and killed 19 firefighters. It was started by a lightning strike, but a months-long drought and persistent heat created the perfect conditions for the resulting fire to blaze out of control.11

Fire #9: Taylor Complex Fire

Date: 2004

Location: Alaska

Acres Burned: 1,305,592

Deaths: none

The Taylor Complex Fire in Alaska was considered the biggest wildfire in the history of the United States from 2004, when it first conflagrated, all the way through 2007. It burned over 1.3 million acres, although no deaths were reported.12

Fire #10: 2020 California Wildfire Season

Date: 2020

Location: California

Acres Burned: 4,300,000 acres

Deaths: 33 people

The 2020 California Wildfire Season is on record as California’s worst fire season. It burned 4.3 million acres, killed 33 people, and consisted of nearly 10,000 separate fires.13


  1. FAO.org, “Unasylva – Vol. 5, No. 2 – “Wild Lands” Conservation – Forest Fire Danger Measurement in the United States.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  2. Treehugger, “10 of the Worst Wildfires in U.S. History.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  3. CAL FIRE, “Top 20 Largest California Wildfires.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  4. National Park Service, “Dixie Fire.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  5. The New York Times, “Inside The Massive And Costly Fight To Contain The Dixie Fire.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  6. NBC News, “Hammer spark caused largest wildland fire in California history, investigators say.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  7. CAL FIRE, “Ranch Fire (Mendocino Complex) Incident.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  8. Treehugger, “10 of the Worst Wildfires in U.S. History.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  9. Fire Rescue 1, “Peshtigo Fire: The deadliest wildfire in U.S. history.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  10. National Centers for Environmental Information, “On This Day: Remembering the Yarnell Hill Wildfire.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  11. WTVB, “150 years ago: “Great Fires” in Michigan took place while Chicago was also burning in 1871.” Accessed November 30, 2022.
  12. National Interagency Fire Center, “Fire Information – Wildland Fire Statistics.” Accessed November 30, 2022. [1]
  13. UCDavis, “California’s 2020 Wildfire Season.” Accessed November 30, 2022.

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