Large Fires & Fatalities

OCTOBER 29, 1804

William Clark Journal Entry

William Clark's journal entry for an incident is recorded near Ft. Mandan, North Dakota. This may be the first recorded wildland fire fatality and use of a fire shelter.

"The Prarie was Set on fire (or cought by accident) by a young man of the Mandins, the fire went with such velocity that it burnt to death a man & woman, who Could not get to any place of Safty, one man a woman & Child much burnt and Several narrowly escaped the flame. a boy half white was saved unhurt in the midst of the flaim" ... "The course of his being Saved was a Green buffalow Skin was thrown over him by his mother who perhaps had more fore Sight for the pertection of her Son, and [l]ess for herself than those who escaped the flame, the Fire did not burn under the Skin leaveing the grass round the boy. This fire passed our camp last [night] about 8 oClock P.M. it went with great rapitidity and looked Tremendious."

REFERENCED ITEMS: From Bernard DeVoto, ed., The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997 [1953]), p. 60.

Smoke column rising from prairie fire. Courtesy of National Park Service.

MARCH 30, 1805

Lewis & Clark Journal Entry

"The plains are on fire in view of the fort on both sides of the river, it is said to be common for the Indians to burn the plains near their villages every spring for the benefit of the horse and to induce the Buffalow to come near them."

Smoke column towering above forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

OCTOBER 7, 1825

The Miramichi Fire

Maine and New Brunswick—Three million acres burned and 160 people killed.

REFERENCED ITEMS: The Miramichi Fire of 1825: Sifting through the Ashes at the National Library of Canada

Fire burning in pine forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


The Great Fire

Oregon—1.5 million acres burned.

RELATED ITEMS: Great Fire of 1845

Fire burning in pine forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


The Yaquina Fire

Oregon—450,000 acres burned

Snag silhouetted against burning forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


The Silverton Fire

Oregon—one million acres burned

Flames towering behind trees. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


The Coos Fire

Oregon—300,000 acres burned

Artist rendering of people fleeing Peshtigo Fire.

OCTOBER 8, 1871

The worst recorded forest fire in North America history

Peshtigo, Wisconsin—fire burned over 1.2 million acres and killed 1,182 people. Fires in Lower Michigan—burned over 2.5 million acres, destroyed over 3,000 buildings killed 200 people. The Great Chicago Fire destroyed over 17,400 structures and killed 250 people.

RELATED ITEMS: The Great Peshtigo Fire: An Eyewitness Account
The Great Chicago Fire

Trees silhouetted against flames. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


Hinckley Fire

Fire burns 160,000 acres, destroys the town of Hinkley, Minnesota, and killed 418 persons.

RELATED ITEMS: Hinckley Fire of 1894

Fire burning in Southern pine forest. Courtesy of National Park Service.

February 16–17, 1898

A Series Of Wildfires

A series of wildfires swept through South Carolina. Unconfirmed reports indicate that 14 people were killed, numerous homes and sawmills burned, and up to 3,000,000 acres of forest land were charred.

RELATED ITEMS: Significant Wildfire Events in South Carolina History

Dead and down timber after the 1910 fire. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

August 20–21, 1910

The Big Blowup

Idaho and Montana—Over 3 million acres burned, destroying numerous towns and killing 85 people across northern Idaho and western Montana. It destroyed the Montana towns of DeBorgia, Grand Forks, Haugan, Henderson and Taft.

RELATED ITEMS: The Big Burn of 1910

Man standing on logs in front of mine opening. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

AUGUST 20, 1910

Pulaski's Mineshaft

Ed Pulaski, the Wallace district ranger of the Coeur d'Alene National Forest, led a crew of firefighters battling fires near the town of Wallace, Idaho. His crew was trapped between walls of fire and he led them to safety inside a mineshaft. Five of the 45 men died and Ed Pulaski and many others received serious burns while escaping the flames.

Flames and smoke in mixed forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

October 12, 1918

Cloquet, Minnesota

Over 1.2 million acres burned 38 communities destroyed 450 fatalities

RELATED ITEMS: The 1918 Fire: Fire Memorial Plaque in Kettle River

Foundation and chimney of building destroyed in Giant Berkley Fire.

SEPTEMBER 17, 1923

Giant Berkley Fire

California—Leveled 50 city blocks, destroying 624 buildings when 60 mile an hour winds drove flames out of the surrounding hills.

RELATED ITEMS: Response of the San Francisco Fire Department to the Berkeley Conflagration of September 17, 1923

Men working in vegatation on hillside. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

OCTOBER 3, 1933

Griffith Park Fire

Los Angeles, California—Kills 29 firefighters and injures more than 150 when a sudden wind change sent a shaft of flame up the slopes of Dam Canyon.

RELATED ITEMS: Griffith Park Fire

Two Medicine Chalet in Glacier National Park, 1932. Courtesy of National Park Service.

August, 1936

Heaven's Peak Fire

Fires in Glacier National Park destroyed buildings in the Many Glacier area of the park. Only through the efforts of firefighters and hotel employees was the Many Glacier Hotel saved.

RELATED ITEMS: The Story of the Heaven's Peak Fire of 1936

1937 photo of 3 men fighting smoking fire. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

AUGUST 21, 1937

Blackwater Fire

Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming—15 firefighters died and another 38 were injured when a passing cold front turned the fire's head a full 90 degrees and trapped groups of firefighters on various parts of the fire.

RELATED ITEMS: Staff Ride to the Blackwater Fire

View of Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Paradise, Nevada. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

JULY 28, 1939

Rock Creek Fire

Flames overran and killed five crewmen from Paradise Camp F-5, Company 1212, a Civilian Conservation Corp Firefighting Crew, as they retreated from a fire in steep rugged terrain on the Toiyabe National Forest and Winnemucca District-Division of Grazing lands in Northern Nevada near the small community of Orovada. This is the first recorded firefighting fatality in sage brush fuel type.

RELATED ITEMS: Staff Ride to the Rock Creek Fire

Smoke cloud above forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

OCTOBER 3, 1943

Hauser Creek Fire

Cleveland National Forest, Southern California—The fire burns 10,000 acres, kills 11 U.S. Marines and injures 72 others. Fire started by gunnery practice.

Smokejumpers preparing to board plane. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

AUGUST 5, 1949

Mann Gulch Fire

Gates of the Mountain Wilderness, Montana—Kills 13 firefighters. Only the foreman and two crew members of the 16-man smokejumper crew survived.

RELATED ITEMS: Mann Gulch Fire: A Race That Couldn't Be Won
The Thirteenth Fire

Faces of 14 men who died in Rattlesnake Fire in 1953.

JULY 9, 1953

Rattlesnake Fire

A New Tribes Mission firefighting crew under the direction of U.S. Forest Service overhead was trapped by flames as they worked on a brush covered hillside in Powderhouse Canyon on the Mendocino National Forest. One USFS Ranger and 14 missionary firefighters died in the fire.

RELATED ITEMS: Staff Ride to the Rattlesnake Fire

Towering column of smoke and flame. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


Inaja Fireburns

43,000 acres near Julian, California kills 11 firefighters

Two men standing in front of smoke. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

NOVEMBER 1, 1966

Loop Fire

Loop Fire, Angeles National Forest, California—Thirteen El Cariso Hotshots were killed and others injured when a cold trail fireline was being constructed downhill at 3:55pm on a SW aspect. The fire relocated from the bottom of a draw to the slope below the crew and the smoldering fire transitioned to an area on fire creating flame lengths reaching 100 feet.

HTML—Staff Ride to the Loop Fire

Three firefighters looking at burning forest. Courtesy of National Park Service.

September 26–October 3, 1970

The Laguna Fire

California—San Diego County's largest fire in modern times, burned 175,425 acres, killed eight people and destroyed 382 homes. In 24 hours the fire burned from near Mount Laguna into the outskirts of El Cajon and Spring Valley.

Smoke billowing up from brush and trees. Courtesy of National Park Service.

July, 1972

Moccasin Mesa Fire

Mesa Verde National Park—A lightning caused fire, burned a total of 2,680 acres in Mesa Verde National Park and on Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Lands. The Park failed to recognize the potential for cultural resource damage from fire suppression activities. Fire suppression activities (primarily dozers) resulted in the destruction of numerous archeological sites. A post-fire review and investigation resulted in the establishment of a national policy to include cultural resource oversight in the management of wildland fires on all federal lands.

Fire burning in pine forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

JULY 16, 1976

Battlement Creek Fire

Colorado—kills five firefighters

Fire burning in pine trees. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

JUNE 16, 1977

La Mesa Fire

Bandelier National Monument—Burned over 15,000 acres of lands administered by three federal agencies. The major portion of the burn was within Bandelier, burning over 10,000 acres and affecting numerous cultural sites containing artifacts dating back to the early 1100-1200's. This is the first known wildland fire event in which archeologists were used as cultural resource locators and many sites were saved as a result of this action.

SEPTEMBER 15, 1978

Ouzel Fire

Ouzel Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park threatens nearby community of Allenspark, Colorado. Initially managed for resource benefits as a prescribed natural fire, the Ouzel Fire was driven by strong downslope "Chinook" winds toward the park boundary. Winds eventually subsided and the fire was controlled within the park boundary. Recommendations from the fire review further clarified the NPS fire management planning and use of natural fires for resource benefits.


Butte Fire

Salmon National Forest near Salmon, ID—Seventy-two firefighters deployed shelters for 1-2 hours when fire ran up a west aspect with a following wind at 1600 hours.

Snag silhouetted against burning forest. Courtesy of Nation Interagency Fire Center.


Great Black Dragon Fire

China and Russia—Started by a careless smoker, burned over 3 million acres in the world's largest virgin pine forest in China and approximately 30 million acres in Russia.

Smoke with mountains in distance. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


The Siege of '87 Fire

California—Burned across 640,000 acres in California. The Klamath and Stanislaus National Forests lost valuable timber.


Fires In Yellowstone

A total of 248 fires started in greater Yellowstone in 1988; 50 of those were in Yellowstone National Park. Despite widespread misconceptions that all fires were initially allowed to burn, only 31 of the total were; 28 of these began inside the park. In the end, 7 major fires were responsible for more than 95% of the 1.2 million acres burned. Five of those fires were ignited outside the park, and 3 of them were human-caused fires that firefighters attempted to control from the beginning. Approximately 793,000 (about 36%) of the park's 2,221,800 acres were burned. Five Type I Incident Management Teams, an Area Command Team and nearly 9,000 firefighters at one time were called in to fight the fires. Total suppression costs were estimated at $120 million.

RELATED ITEMS: Yellowstone Fires and Their Legacy
Yellowstone National Park: Wildland Fire

Night view burning pine trees and power pole. Coutesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


Canyon Creek Fire

Canyon Creek fire a prescribed natural fire that had burned much of the summer in the Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana. on the Helena, Lewis and Clark, and LoLo National Forests. The jet stream surfaced over the fire and the fire ran east over the continental divide and burned over 118,000 acres overnight. It ended up at 249,000 acres.

Fire burning in pine trees. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


Dude Fire

Tonto National Forest, Arizona—Burns 28,000 acres, razes a subdivision and kills six firefighters.

Burned hillside with roads. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

October 19–22, 1991

Tunnel Fire (renamed the East Bay Hills Fire)

Oakland and Berkley, California—This fire is the most destructive wildland urban interface fire to date. Twenty-five people were killed with approximately 135 injured, 3,354 single family dwellings, 456 apartment units and approximately 2,000 vehicles were destroyed. While only burning 1,600 acres, total damages were estimated at $1.5 billion.

Cloud of smoke beyond boats in marina.


Laguna Hills Fire

California—destroyed 366 houses in just 6 hours

Burnt trees silhouetted against colored sky. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

JULY 6, 1994

South Canyon Fire

near Glenwood Springs, Colorado kills 14 firefighters—An interagency team was formed to investigate the fatalities and contributing factors. The subsequent 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Policy and Program Review, signed by both secretaries of Agriculture and Interior, directed federal wildland fire agencies to establish fire management qualifications standards to improve firefighter safety and increase professionalism in fire management programs.

RELATED ITEMS: South Canyon Fire Investigation

Numerous wisps of smoke on mountainside. Courtesy of National Park Service.

JULY 7, 1994

Howling Fire

Glacier National Park—Experienced problems getting resources to manage the fire as a "prescribed natural fire." Managers discussed the need for crews to manage these type fires similar to fire fighting crews. This led the National Park Service to create four Fire Use Modules and four Fire Use Management Teams.

Fire burning in pine forest. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


5.1 Million Acres Burned

5.1 million acres of land burned across the nation by the end of November, nearly 2.5 million acres were managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with two million acres being in the Great Basin, which encompasses most of Nevada, the western half of Utah, the southeast corner of Oregon, the lower third of Idaho and a small slice of California.

Remains of burned house. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.

May, 2000

Cerro Grande Fire

Bandelier National Monument—A prescribed fire escaped control and burned over 45,000 acres and destroyed 235 homes in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Department of Agriculture and interior suspend all prescribed fires west of the 100th Meridian for approximately one year.

Smoke billowing above mesa at Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy of National Park Service.

July–August, 2000

Bircher and Pony Fires

Bircher Fire Mesa Verde National Park—Burns 23,607 acres in July

Pony Fire Mesa Verde National Park—Burns 5,420 acres in August causing closure of Mesa Verde National Park.


National Fire Plan

Fires burn a record 8.4 million acres; National Fire Plan adopted which increased funding and committed federal land management agencies to treat, by burning and thinning, 40 million acres of brush and dense forest during the first decade of the new century.

Trucks in front of burning forest. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

JULY 10, 2001

Thirtymile Fire

Okanogan National Forest, Washington—Erratic fire behavior entraps crew and two civilians. 14 shelters were deployed and four firefighters died.

RELATED ITEMS: Thirtymile Fire Information

Smoke column from Hayman Fire rising above forested hillside. Courtesy of USDA Forest Service.

JUNE 8, 2002

The Hayman Fire

Started near Lake George, Colorado—The fire burned over 136,000 acres before being contained July 2 at cost of over $43 Million. 600 structures including 133 residences were destroyed in the largest fire in Colorado history.

RELATED ITEMS: Hayman Fire and BAER Information

Rodeo-Chediski Fire illuminating the sky behind building in Show Low, Arizona.

JUNE 18, 2002

The Rodeo-Chediski Fire

began near Cibique, Arizona—The fire burned over 462,000 acres, caused evacuation of over 8,000 people, destroyed 426 residences and cost approximately $153 Million. Four Type I Incident Management Teams and an Area Command Management Team were involved in fighting the larges fire in Arizona history.

RELATED ITEMS: White Mountain Apache Tribe Summary of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Arizona

Fire burning in pinon juniper forest near building at Mesa Verde. Courtesy of National Park Service.

JULY 29, 2002

Long Mesa Fire

Mesa Verde National Park closed because of the Long Mesa Fire.

Smoke column with trees in foreground. Courtesy of National Interagency Fire Center.


Fires Burn 7 Million Acres

88,458 fires burned roughly 7million acres and caused the deaths of 23 firefighters. Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all have largest fires in recorded history.

JULY 22, 2003

Cramer Fire

Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho—Experienced a major blow-up causing the deaths of two firefighters. The investigation report cited inadequate management oversight, failure to comply with policy, failure to recognize and adjust fire suppression and tactics, and a shortage and misallocation of resources as situations leading to the fatalaties. A separate four-member accident review board reviewed the findings and developed recommendations to prevent similar accidents. The key actions that, when implemented, would best prevent similar mishaps in the future, include strengthening command and control performance of agency administrator and fire managers, and periodically re-certifying fire management leadership positions nationally.

RELATED ITEMS: Cramer Fire Investigation Information

Smoke rising from mountain beyond lake in Glacier National Park. Courtesy of National Park Service.

August, 2003

Numerous Wildfires in Glacier National Park

Numerous wildfires in Glacier National Park fires close portions of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway and causes evacuation of West Glacier communities.

Night view of fires burning above California town.

October, 2003

The Cedar Fire

The Cedar Fire started on the Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County. It burned 275,000 acres, over 2,400 homes, 14 civilian fatalities and one firefighter fatality. Fire behavior like that has never been seen before in Southern California. Largest fire in California recorded history. Many of the civilians died while evacuating from the fire.

RELATED ITEMS: California Fire Siege 2003—The Story

Aerial view of fire and smoke in Denali National Park, Alaska. Courtesy of National Park Service.


Wildland Fires In Alaska

Wildland fires in Alaska burn over 6.38 million acres.