Wildfires continue to be a major threat to residents across Region VIII states, where an increasing number of communities build within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Over the years, wildfires have caused significant damage across these states. Below are some of the most devastating fires:
FEMA Region VIII Wildfire Timeline
Great Fire of 1910-Washington, Idaho and Montana
Throughout the extremely dry summer of 1910, thousands of small fires ignited across the forests of Washington, Idaho and Montana. Then, on August 20-21 several fires combined and created a 36-hour firestorm known as the “Big Blowup” that burned more than 3,000,000 acres across three states and cost 85 people their lives. The firestorm stretched from Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho to the Coer d’Alene and eastward over the crest of the Bitterroot Mountain Range. The 1910 fires were a pivotal event in U.S. history, affecting thousands of people and forging the U.S. Forest Service’s early fire suppression policy.
- The Great Fire of 1910 (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Publication)
On August 18, 1937, a lightning strike started the Blackwater Fire, burning 1,700 acres in Shoshone National Forest. The fire spread quickly through the forest and caused spot fires that trapped some firefighters, causing 15 people to lose their lives.
Mann Gulch Fire-Montana
The Mann Gulch Fire began August 5, 1949. Before it was contained it burned more than 4,500 acres and claimed the lives of 13 firefighters. The lessons learned from the Mann Gulch fire had a significant impact on firefighter training and emphasized the importance of fire research and studying fire science behavior.
- Mann Gulch Fire: A Race that Couldn’t be Won (U.S. Forest Service Publication)
Yellowstone Fires-Montana and Wyoming
1988 was known as the “Summer of Fire” in Yellowstone National Park. Although there was a rainy spring, by June the area experienced a significant drought, a recipe for disaster to follow. Over the summer, there were 9 fires caused by humans and 42 fires caused by lightning. The fires affected almost 800,000 acres of the park and killed approximately 300 large mammals. Until that time, the 1988 Yellowstone fires comprised the largest fire-fighting effort in the United States, with more than 25,000 responders involved and $120 million spent on response efforts.
- The Yellowstone Fires of 1988 (National Park Service Publication)
Black Tiger Fire-Colorado
The human-caused fire swept through residential areas, destroying 44 homes and burning almost 2,100 acres. At the time, the Black Tiger Fire was the worst wildland fire loss in Colorado history. As people continued to build in the Wildland Urban Interface, the Black Tiger Fire underscored the importance of homeowners taking steps to protect their homes against wildfires. The lessons learned from the Black Tiger fire were a catalyst for many of the current recommended mitigation measures established by firefighting organizations.
- Black Tiger Fire Case Study (National Fire Protection Association Publication)
South Canyon Fire-Colorado
The South Canyon Fire, near Glenwood Springs, was started by lightning on July 2, 1994. The fire started out slowly, covering just three acres over two days. Then due to several factors, such as fuels, slope, and wind, the fire began a high-intensity, fast moving front. While trying to control the blaze in rugged terrain, 14 firefighters lost their lives.
- Fire Behavior Associated with the 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado (U.S. Forest Service Report)
- South Canyon Fire 20th Anniversary Site
The Hayman Fire began June 2, 2002 and took more than 45 days to contain. In the end, the fire burned approximately 138,000 acres. In 2002, much of the Hayman area was full of dry vegetation as a result of fire exclusion and dry conditions that prevailed that year. These variables provided ideal conditions for the man-made fire.
- FEMA DR-1421 Colorado WIldfires Disaster Page
- FEMA FM-2421 Hayman Fire Page
- Hayman Fire Case Study (U.S. Forest Service Report)
Milford Flat Fire-Utah
The Milford Flat Fire is the largest fire in Utah’s history. It started on July 6, 2007 as a result of dry thunderstorms. The fire exhibited explosive rates of spread, and burned 363,046 acres by the time it was contained on July 19. The fire spread to Interstate-15 and caused a pileup that resulted in the death of two motorists.
High Park & Waldo Canyon Fires-Colorado
In June 2012, the High Park wildfire began near Fort Collins and burned more than 87,000 acres. Just days later, the Waldo Canyon Fire started near Colorado Springs burning 18,000 acres and destroying 347 homes. The Waldo Canyon Fire is most expensive wildfire in Colorado history, with insurance costs totaling $453.7 million.
Black Forest Fire-Colorado
The Black Forest Fire began on June 11, 2013, and is currently the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. The fire killed two people, destroyed approximately 500 structures and caused the evacuations of thousands. With 16,000 acres burned, the fire was finally contained nine days after it started. The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association estimates the insured losses from the fire at $420.5 million.