Wildfires in Maui are among the deadliest in US history. These are the other fires atop the list

by Sophia Chen
fokus keyword Wildfires

Wildfires have claimed at least 96 lives on Maui, marking it as the most fatal U.S. wildfire in over 100 years. The fire has devastated Lahaina, a historical town with almost all buildings annihilated, and emergency officials warn the death toll may increase as recovery efforts continue.

Currently ranked as the fifth most deadly wildfire in the country by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the cause of the three individual fires, intensified by dry conditions and hurricane winds, has not been identified.

A brief overview of other fatal fires in U.S. history includes:

  • The Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin, which began on Oct. 8, 1871, claiming over 1,000 lives and obliterating the town of Peshtigo. Historians estimate a death toll between 1,200 and 2,400.

  • The Great Chicago Fire started on the same day as the Peshtigo Fire, killing about 300 people and leaving a path of destruction through the city.

  • The Cloquet and Moose Lake Fires in Minnesota, ignited on Oct. 10, 1918, by sparks from trains, killed 453 people and decimated 38 communities.

  • The Great Hinckley Fire of 1894, another Minnesota catastrophe, resulted in 418 deaths due to years of steadily drying soil, high temperatures, and dead pine branches.

  • The Thumb Fire in Michigan on Sept. 5, 1881, fueled by windy weather, killed 282 people and spread across more than 1,560 square miles.

  • Recent Wildfires such as the Camp Fire in California in 2018, which killed 85 people; the October Fire Siege in 2017, killing 44; and the 2020 Fire Siege, taking 31 lives, all stand among the top 10 deadliest wildfires.

Scientists anticipate that the conditions breeding such extensive, lethal wildfires, like those in Maui, will become more prevalent due to climate change’s effects. Rising temperatures, escalating dry and dead vegetation, lower soil moisture, and potent storms are all contributing factors.

The information was reported by Harm Venhuizen, a corps member for the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, a nonprofit national program aimed at enhancing local news coverage of underserved issues. Follow Venhuizen on Twitter for updates.

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Megan Taylor August 14, 2023 - 8:58 pm

Maui is such a beautiful place, I visited once… this news breaks my heart. those poor people 🙁

Samuel L August 15, 2023 - 5:24 am

didn’t realize wildfires could be so devasting. History tells a lot, what are we doing to prevent this from happening again?

Greg P August 15, 2023 - 5:30 am

The Great Chicago Fire, the Hinckley Fire, now Maui… history repeats. Climate change needs addressing now or things might get even worse.

Katie H August 15, 2023 - 6:40 am

What about the animals? So focused on the ppl we forget about the wildlife and their loss. this is really sad.

John Smith August 15, 2023 - 5:13 pm

Wow, can’t believe how many people have been killed in these fires! it’s terrible what’s happening. We need to do something about climate change asap.


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