The 12 biggest wildfires in history (2023)

It is undeniable that theClimate crisis and land use changeWildfires around the world are getting worse. According to the UN, these are extreme fire eventsthe expectation is a 50% increaseBy the end of the century, the western US, northern Siberia, central India, and eastern Australia suffered many more fires. Here is a list of the 12 largest wildfires in history and the damage they have done to biodiversity, ecosystems and urban settlements.

The 12 Biggest Wildfires in History:

1. Siberian taiga fires 2003 (Russia) – 55 million acres

In 2003, during one of the hottest summers Europe has ever seen, a series of extremely devastating fires in the taiga forests of eastern Siberia destroyed over 22 million hectares of land. A combination of extremely dry conditions and increasing human exploitation over the past few decades are believed to have played a role in one of the largest and most devastating wildfires in human history. The fires spread across Siberia and Russia's Far East, northern China and northern Mongolia, kicking up a plume of smokearrived in Kyotothousands of kilometers away. Emissions from fires in the Siberian taiga can be compared to emission cuts promised by the European UnionKyoto-Protokolland its effects can still be seen in current environmental studies on ozone depletion.

2. Australian bushfires 1919/2020 (Australia): 42 million acres

The Australian bushfires of 2020 made history for hercatastrophic effects on wildlife. IsExtreme bushfires have ravaged New South Wales and Queensland in southeastern Australia, burning 42 million acres, destroying thousands of buildings and killing dozens of people3 billion animals, including an incredible 61,000 koalas. Australia has experiencedhotter and drieryear in its recorded history in late 2019 and early 2020, which was a major contributor to the devastating wildfires. Data released by the Climate Monitoring Agency shows that Australia's average temperature in 2019 was 1.52°C above average, making it the warmest year since records began in 1910; January 2019 was the hottest month on record in Australia. Rainfall was 40% below average, the lowest level since 1900.

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3. Fires in the Northwest Territories (Canada) in 2014: 8.5 million acres

In the summer of 2014, more than 150 isolated fires broke out in the Northwest Territories, an area approximately 442 square miles (1.1 billion square kilometers) in northern Canada. 13 of them are said to have been caused by humans. The smoke they produced led to air quality alerts across the country as well as the US, with the smoke being visible as far away as Portugal in western Europe. In all, nearly 8.5 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of forest were completely destroyed and it cost the government $44.4 million to fight the fire. These devastating consequences made the Northwest Territories fires one of the worst in nearly three decades.

4. 2004 Alaska (USA) fire season: 6.6 million acres

Is2004 Alaska fire season It was the worst in Alaskan history in terms of area burned. More than 2.6 million hectares of land were burned by 701 fires. 215 of these were triggered by lightning; the other 426 were initiated by humans. The summer of 2004 was extremely hot and humid compared to typical inland Alaska weather, resulting in a record number of lightning strikes. After months of this illumination and rising temperatures, an exceptionally dry August resulted in wildfires that lasted into September.

5. 1939 Black Friday Bushfire (Australia) - 5 million acres

They went down in history like Black Friday, the bushfires that destroyed more than 5 million acres in Victoria -a state in the southeastAustralia- Em 1939, was the culmination ofperennial drought, followed by high temperatures and strong winds. The fires covered more than three quarters of the state and claimed 71 lives, making it the third deadliest bushfire in Australian history. Although the fires lasted for several days on January 13, when temperatures reached 44.7C in the capital Melbourne and 47.2C in Mildura in the northwest, they raged, killing 36 people and destroying more than 700 homes, 69 Sawmills and several farms. The ashes from the flames fell as far as New Zealand.

6. The Great Fire of 1919 (Canada) - 5 million acres

Although it took place more than a century ago, theGreat fire of 1919It will still be remembered as one of the largest and most devastating wildfires in history. In early May, a complex of multiple fires devastated the boreal forests of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Timber that had been felled for the timber industry, combined with strong dry winds, contributed to the fast-raging blazes that in just a few days devastated an estimated 5 million acres (2 million hectares), destroying hundreds of buildings and 11 lives.

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7. 1950 Chinchaga Fire (Canada) - 4.2 million acres

Also known as the Wisp Fire and "Fire 19," the Chinchaga Wildfire burned in northern British Columbia and Alberta from June through early fall of 1950. It went down in history as one of the largest fires in recorded North American history, covering approximately 4.2 million acres (1.7 million hectares). While the impact on buildings and threats to people were reduced, the area's lack of settlements allowed the fire to burn freely. The enormous smoke development of the flames created the historical"Big Smoke Screen", a thick plume of smoke that eclipsed the sun for almost a week, turning it blue and making it visible to the naked eye undisturbed. The phenomenon can be observed for several daysruns through eastern North America and Europe.

8. Wildfires in Bolivia in 2010 (South America): 3.7 million acres

In August 2010, more than 25,000 fires burned in Bolivia, covering an area of ​​about 1.5 million hectares and mainly damaging the Amazonian part of the country. The thick smoke they exhaled forced the government to disrupt several flights and declare a state of emergency. Causes included a combination of fires set by farmers to clear land for cultivation and dry vegetation as a result of the extreme drought the country experienced during the summer months. The wildfires in Bolivia are among the worst the South American country has seen in almost 30 years.

9. Great Connecticut Fire of 1910 (USA) – 3 Million Acres

Also known as the Big Burn, Big Blowup, or Devil's Broom Fire, this fire raged in Idaho and Montana during the summer months of 1910. Although it only burned for two days, strong winds spread the fire. combined with other smaller fires. to form a massive fire that destroyed 1.2 million acres, roughly the size of the entire state of Connecticut, and killed 85 people creating thisone of the worst wildfires in US history.. Though the fire was remembered for the destruction it caused, it paved the way for the government to decreeforest protection policy.

10. 1987 Black Dragon Fire (China and Russia) - 2.5 million acres

Also known as theDaxing'annling Wildfire, tThe 1987 Black Dragon Fire was possibly the world's largest wildfire in hundreds of years, as well as the deadliest wildfire in the People's Republic of China. It burned relentlessly for over a month, destroying approximately 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of land, 18 million of which was forest. While the exact cause is unclear, Chinese reports claim the fire may have been caused by human action. A total of 191 people died in the fire and another 250 were injured. In addition, almost 33,000 people were displaced.

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11. 2011 Richardson Backcountry Fire (Canada) – 1.7 million acres

The Richardson Backwoods Fire beganMay 2011 in Alberta, Canada. It was the largest fire event since the Chinchaga Fire of 1950. The fire burned nearly 688,000 hectares of boreal forest, prompting a series of evacuations and closures. According to authorities, the fire was almost certainly the result of human activity, but extreme drought, unusually high temperatures and strong winds added to the intensity.

12. The 1989 wildfires in Manitoba (Canada) - 1.3 million acres

Last on our list of the largest wildfires in history are the Manitoba fires.Between mid-May and early August 1989,a total of 1,147 fires— the largest number on record — emerged in Manitoba, a Canadian province that hosts an immense variety of landscapes, from arctic tundra and the Hudson's Bat Coast to dense boreal forests and large freshwater lakes. The record fires burned nearly 3.3 million hectares of land, resulting in the evacuation of 24,500 people from 32 different communities. The cost of their removal was $52 million. While fires during the summer months are nothing new in Manitoba, the number of fires in 1989 was nearly 4.5 times the 20-year average of 120 fires per month. While May's fires were primarily the result of human activity, most of July's fires were caused by intense lightning activity.

If you liked this article, you might also like:The 15 Largest Wildfires in US History

Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org Research Associate Anjella Klaiber.


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