With Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada still in the grip of an enormous blaze, forest fires have sadly been thrust back into the spotlight and this infographic looks at the 10 deadliest forest fires in history based on the number of human lives lost.
Which forest fire was the world’s deadliest?
The worst such conflagration of all time remains the Great Peshtigo Fire that ripped through Michigan and Wisconsin in 1871, with more than 1,200 people killed in the blaze (some estimates even report this figure to be twice that number). History records that the presence of several sawmills and factories with flammable materials within the location of the fire, plus a wide abundance of wooden houses, contributed substantially to the broad spread of this fire.
Is there a common theme throughout the worst forest fires?
Another contributing factor to the Great Peshtigo Fire, and indeed one that is cited in numerous other deadly forest fires, was the less than ideal weather combination of very strong winds and extreme heat. In the Black Saturday Bushfires that devastated Australia in 2009, temperatures soared to 115ºF (46ºC) and winds exceeded 62.5 miles an hour. In other cases, long periods of drought immediately preceded forest fires.
Does the human race contribute to deadly forest fires?
It isn’t just the gods of weather that lead to millions of acres of forestry being burned to the ground. Sometimes the negligence or malevolence of humankind is to blame. When a forest near Mount Carmel in Israel in 2010 erupted in flames, it is thought that a teenager tossed aside a burning coal, clearly unaware of the potential consequences of such action. The circumstances surrounding the Peloponesse Fires in Greece three years earlier were far more sinister. With a large area of forestry already ablaze, arsonists callously lit other fires nearby and it was inevitable that these would join up with the existing conflagration.
Alan Crowe is the owner of a sawmill business, Crowe Sawmills in Ireland. He also takes a keen interest in environmental matters and is passionate about adhering to best environmental practices within his line of business. He likes to create content related to forestry and the timber industry.