Skip to main content
A helicopter dropping water on a wildfire in California

The biggest wildfires in recorded history  

Image: A helicopter dropping water on a Californian wildfire |

A wildfire has the uncanny ability to move in multiple directions with considerable speed leaving behind nothing but scorched earth and ashes. And as the globe warms, they’re only going to get worse. In the UK alone, there were 500 more wildfires in 2022 than there were in 2021. Here are the biggest wildfires in recorded history.

Moray Wildfire (UK) – 2019

To put the following into some sort of context, one of the biggest wildfires the UK has witnessed was on 22nd April 2019 in the whisky distillery region of Knockando, Scotland.

On the first day, the fire destroyed more than 25 square miles (16,000 acres) and firefighters battled the blaze for the following three days. But the fire reignited and a further 19 square miles (12,160 acres) were incinerated as around 80 firefighters, 19 fire engines and two helicopters fought to contain the inferno on four fronts. The blaze wasn’t fully extinguished until 9th May, over two weeks later.

Northwest Territories Fires (Canada) - 2014

In 2014, wildfires across the Northwest Territories covered 8.5 million acres, making it 300 times larger than the Moray Wildfire. The fire cost the government over $44.4 million and the smoke could be seen as far away as Portugal.

Canada is no stranger to wildfires either. In 1919, five million acres of land were incinerated when cut timber caught fire and swept through the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, claiming the lives of 11 people. And in 1950, 4.2 million acres were destroyed when the Chinchaga Forest Fire burned for four months destroying millions of trees, but without loss to human life. It created the world's largest known smoke layer in the atmosphere, which even turned the sun a shade of blue.

Siberian Taiga Fires (Russia) - 2003

The Taiga Fires was a vast network of fires across 55 million acres in Siberia and the Russian Far East, northeast China and northern Mongolia. The discharge equalled the emission cuts promised by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol. Sadly, Siberian Taiga Fires are far from unique. Between 1995 and 2005, fires in this region increased tenfold and a fire in 2021 destroyed 40 million acres of forest.

Australian Bushfires - 2019/20

The Australian Bushfires started in 2019, the hottest and driest year in recorded Australian histories. 42 million acres were burned and at least 33 human lives were claimed. It’s estimated 1.25 billion wild animals were killed, a figure which includes 61,000 koalas in a blaze that lasted between June 2019 to May 2020.

Of course, Australia is no stranger to bushfires, they play a vital role in the country’s biodiversity, but they’ve become increasingly common in the past 20 years. On 7th February 2009, the ‘Black Saturday Brushfires’ became the worst natural disaster in Australia’s history, covering 1.1 million acres and claiming the lives of 173 people. However, nothing compares to the 117 million acres of land that burned between October 1974 to February 1975 across most of mainland Australia.