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Wildfires throughout history

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(CNN) -- Wildfires have long been feared for their potentially devastating impact on the landscape and people's lives. Technology, improved firefighting techniques and better coordination among agencies have reduced the number of lives lost, but the blazes can still cause widespread destruction.


Despite new technology and techniques, wildfires can still can cause widespread destruction, as they have throughout history.

In the early part of the United States' history -- without these advances -- wildfires consumed mammoth areas and killed many. Here's a look at some of the worst wildfires in North America from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Miramichi Fire

After a summer of sparse rain, sporadic wildfires in Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick reached disastrous levels in October 1825. Strong winds spurred the conflagration, which burned through forests and settlements in Maine and along the Miramichi River in Canada. Among the worst wildfires in North American history, the Miramichi fire burned 3 million acres, killed 160 people and left 15,000 homeless.

An eyewitness account, preserved by the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources, described the scene: "A loud roaring was heard in the woods, and from the burnt substances still continuing to thicken the atmosphere, it was so dark that the flames could not be distinguished, though they were more than one mile from the town."

Peshtigo Fire

In October 1871, the Peshtigo Fire burned more than 3.7 million acres in Wisconsin and Michigan. Federal authorities estimate at least 1,500 people died in the fire. Eight hundred died in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, nearly half the town's population. Despite the blaze's extensive devastation and the fact it killed more people than any fire since, the Peshtigo Fire was overshadowed at the time by the Great Chicago Fire, which began the same day.

Railroad workers clearing land for new tracks during an unusually dry summer started the fire, as pieced together from survivor accounts by The Area Research Center -- the record depository for 11 counties in northern Wisconsin. Some survivors said the blaze moved "like a tornado."

Hinckley Fire

On the heels of one of the driest summers on record, two smaller blazes converged to form a firestorm, or wall of fire, near Hinckley, Minnesota, on September 1, 1894.

The firestorm was amazingly intense and moved quickly, lasting only four hours but destroying everything in its path. According to the city of Hinckley's Web site, the fire destroyed more than 400 square miles and six towns, including Mission Creek, Brook Park and Hinckley.

Great Fire of 1910


Over two days and nights, several small blazes, hurricane-force winds and dry forests combined in Idaho and Montana to form what became known as the Great Fire of 1910. The flames burned about 3 million acres, making it one of the biggest wildfires recorded in North America, and killed 86 people. A forester later wrote that the fire was "fanned by a tornadic wind so violent that the flames flattened out ahead, swooping to earth in great darting curves, truly a veritable red demon from hell."

Because of the size and economic impact of the fires in 1910, Congress appropriated funds for fire suppression efforts by the National Forrest Service. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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