What Are the Largest Wildfires in U.S. History?

Fueled by dry grass, harsh winds and unseasonably warm temperatures, the Smokehouse Creek fire in the Texas Panhandle has now burned more than 1.1 million acres, making it the largest fire in the state’s recorded history.

At more than a million acres burned, it is also one of the largest wildfires recorded in the United States.

Almost all of the largest wildfires in U.S. history, including the Texas fire, are in fact not one fire with a single point of ignition but a combination of fires burning close together. They are what are known as fire complexes and are attacked by firefighters under a unified command.

Here is a look back at five of the largest wildfires ever recorded in the United States.

2020 — Northern California

August Complex Fire

The largest wildfire in California’s recorded history was a merger of nearly 40 fires, most started by lightning strikes during August in Mendocino County, a rural area about 90 miles north of San Francisco. It burned through 1,032,648 acres and caused the death of a firefighter. Overall, 2020 was a brutal year of wildfires in California, with the state experiencing about 10,000 separate fires. The wildfire season that year consumed 4.3 million acres and killed 33 people, according to scientists.

2004 — ALASKA

Taylor Complex Fire

Lightning also caused this group of fires in August, during a time of dry weather. It consumed about 1.3 million acres in a sparsely populated area of eastern Alaska near the border with Canada. It was part of a record fire season in Alaska that burned more than 6.5 million acres. No deaths were reported.

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