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Are the Colorado wildfires the biggest in US history? (+video)

The Waldo Canyon Fire has been declared the worst in Colorado state history, but it is small compared to the fires in the 19th century that scorched millions of acres.

By Life's Little Mysteries StaffLifes Little Mysteries / June 29, 2012

The High Park Fire blazing near Fort Collins, Colo., June 10.

US Forest Service


The Waldo Canyon Fire has been declared the worst in Colorado state history. With its flames still raging out of control, it has destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Springs, killed at least one person and burned an estimated 18,500 acres of land thus far. Meanwhile, the High Park Fire is charring pine forests in nearby Fort Collins

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Calling it a test day, fire officials in Colorado say they'll soon learn if the progress they've made against a blaze near Colorado Springs will hold as the weather begins to turn against them. (June 30)

But how do the Colorado wildfires compare to history's biggest blazes?

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, huge uncontrolled wildfires periodically arose that destroyed millions of U.S. acres, according to the National Park Service (NPS). In 1825, the Great Miramichi Fire burned 3 million acres in Maine and New Brunswick and killed at least 160 people. Two decades later, Oregon's Great Fire of 1845 blazed for weeks and downed 1.5 million acres of old-growth timber.

More than 1 million acres were turned to ash again in Oregon in 1865, in South Carolina in 1898, in Idaho and Montana in 1910 and in Minnesota in 1918.

But the fieriest day in U.S. history was Oct. 8, 1871. Flames engulfed the Midwest: The Peshtigo wildfire burned 3.78 million acres of Wisconsin and Michigan forest and killed an estimated 1,500 people, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). Meanwhile, a second Michigan forest fire raged, burning 1.2 million acres along with untold numbers of lumberjacks, and across Lake Michigan, the Great Chicago Fire burned the Windy City to the ground; 250 people perished and a record 17,400 structures were destroyed. [Video: The Speed of Wildfire]

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