This Is the Most Destructive Wildfire in America This Century

Source: usdagov / Flickr

The rise in wildfires across the nation has been staggering over the past few years, and 2021 has been no exception. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy reports that through early this month, 48,725 wildfires had destroyed 6.1 million acres. Almost 750 people had been deployed to handle the largest ones.

Ironically, one of the few events to slow the fires was the tremendous rainfall in the west that came off the Pacific Ocean. Even with this brief help, the trend is expected to worsen in the years ahead. The droughts that have plagued the western United States are expected to worsen. So are high winds.

This year already has produced at least one historical fire. At the time of this writing, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon had already burned nearly 400,000 acres, making it one of the largest of this century, and it has not yet been contained.

24/7 Wall St. chose the most destructive wildfire in the United States this century. We reviewed data on wildfires that burned 100,000 acres or more since 2000 from the National Interagency Fire Center’s Fire (NIFC) and Aviation Management Web Applications Program to compile our list.

Because of extended drought, high temperatures and dry grasslands, the western continental states and Alaska have fallen victim to most of the severe wildfires in the nation’s history. These fires also have been some of the nation’s worst natural disasters.

The most destructive wildfire of the century was the Taylor Highway Complex fire. Here are the details:

  • Area burned: 1,303,358 acres
  • State affected: Alaska
  • Year: 2004
  • Cause: Lightning

Fires erupted in Alaska in mid-June and eventually consumed more than 3.4 million acres by the end of the month. During the peak of the crisis, 466 firefighting personnel were assigned to the fire. Taylor Highway in eastern Alaska was the largest area affected by the inferno, which raged into August, burning 1.3 million acres there.

To determine the most destructive U.S. wildfire this century, 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed data on active and partially contained fires in 2021 from the Fire, Weather and Avalanche Center. Data on active fires is current as of midday on July 22.

The number of large fires, which refers to the number of fires that burned more than 100,000 acres, also came from the NIFC. Larger fires often split into several other smaller events, causing their own pattern of destruction. Fires initially part of larger incidents, as well as their aggregate fires, were indicated.

Click here to read about the 30 most destructive wildfires of the century.