Some Of The Worst Fires In Northwest History

Jul 21, 2014

The Carlton Complex Fire in Okanogan County is now the worst fire in Washington history. It has burned more than 238,000 acres of land, and is believed to have destroyed between 150 and 200 homes, killing one person. As firefighters work to contain the blaze, we’d like to take a look at some of the other fires that have raged across the Northwest to see how it compares.

The Big Burn of 1910 devastated northern Idaho. This is the result of a wildfire "hurricane" in a heavy stand of Idaho white pine on Little North fork of St. Joe River, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, 1910.
Credit Library of Congress

The Big Burn of 1910 – The largest fire in the history of the United States is the Big Burn that destroyed more than 3 million acres across northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana over two days, August 20-21 of 1910. It killed 87 people and destroyed one-third of the town of Wallace, Idaho. The Big Burn was the deadliest event for American firefighters until the September 11 attacks. But it wasn’t the deadliest fire in America. That was the Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin, which killed 1,700 people – and burned the same day as the Great Chicago Fire.

The Yacolt Burn – In 1902, dozens of fires, known as the Yacoult Burn, torched more than a million acres of Oregon and Washington, leading to 65 total deaths. One of the fires is believed to have been started by boys trying to kill a yellow jacket nest near Eagle Creek, Oregon. Despite the fire’s name, Yacolt, Washington survived the burn – even though it was only 15 buildings at the time of the fire.

Great Oregon Fires Of The 19th Century - The Great Fire of 1845 burned 1.5 million acres of Oregon. In 1853, the Yaquina Fire burned 450,000 acres. In 1865, the Silverton Fire burned a million acres of land across the state. And then in 1868, the Coos fire destroyed a further 300,000 acres.

Long Draw Fire – In 2012, lightning sparked this fire in southeastern Oregon than burned almost 560,000 acres. It was the largest fire in Oregon since the Silverton Fire. Human fatalities were minimal, but many cows were killed by the fires in Oregon’s cattle lands.

Tripod Complex Fire – In 2006, the Tripod Complex Fire burned more than 175,000 acres around Okanogan – the same area as the Carlton Complex Fire. Much of the fire was fueled by dry and dead trees in the Okanogan National Forest, which were unusually dry due to a beetle infestation.

Update -- A listener reminded us of a 2000 wildfire on the Hanford reservation that burned more than 190,000 acres and destroyed 20 homes. If you know of any other significant Northwest wildfires, send us a message or comment below.

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