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The Worst Bushfires In World History

  • February 17th, 2009
  • Posted by Amelia Birnie

The death toll from the bushfires currently plaguing the Australian state of Victoria has officially risen to 201.

The fires have destroyed four major Australian towns and are among the deadliest fires in the last century and a half on world record.

Comparable to such devastating fires as those in Greece, China, France and the US, EU Australia looks back at some of the worst fires to hit our planet.


Victoria’s bushfires have razed more than 1,800 houses and left 7,000 people homeless.

With six fires still burning, police officials have predicted the death toll may reach 300.

Australia will hold a national day of mourning for the victims on 22 February.

GREECE 2007: 77 DEAD

In July and August 2007, Greece experienced an unprecedented wave of wildfires brought on by drought and a series of heatwaves.

77 people died over the summer, due to the more than 4,500 fires which destroyed almost 270,000 hectares of forest and farmland.

CHINA 1987: 200 DEAD:

In May 1987, the most serious fire in China’s recent history killed almost 200 people and left 50,000 homeless in the province of Heilongjiang.

In less than one month, more than one million hectares of forest and farmland were destroyed by the flames and three towns were reduced to ashes.

FRANCE 1949: 82 DEAD

In August 1949, 82 rescue workers were killed in Landes in Southwestern France in the worst fire the country has known, caused by a discarded cigarette.

The casualties included firemen, volunteers and 23 soldiers who were caught up in a cloud of fire caused by a brutal change in the direction and intensity of wind.

UNITED STATES 1871: 1,000-1,500 DEAD

The deadliest forest fire in the world’s history appears to have been that of October 1871 in Peshtigo in the US state of Wisconsin.

An accurate death toll has never been determined since local population records were destroyed in the fire, but between 1,000 and 1,500 people are thought to have lost their lives.

The fire, which broke out in Peshtigo, a forest village of 1700 inhabitants, ravaged 16 other villages and spread over 500,000 hectares.


Information on Current Fires: Updates and Advice, “Fire Update for the State of Victoria”, 17.02.09, 17.02.09

Sandra O’Malley, “World Rallies to help Australia amid worst bushfires in history”, Herald Sun, Melbourne, 09.02.09

Zulfikar Abban, Victoria one of the most bushfire prone regions in the world, ABC Radio Australia, 09.02.09

Geyer, Rev. Kurt, History of the Peshtigo Fire, October 8, 1871, Peshtigo Times, 06.10.21,, 16.02.09