Fires and Explosions

Updated September 9, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

Worst U.S. Forest Fires

Whether you're talking about forest fires or kitchen fires, factory explosions or arson, when fires get out of control, the damage can be devastating.

Sept. 2, England: “Great Fire of London” destroyed much of the city, including St. Paul's Cathedral. Damage £10 million.
Dec. 16, New York City: 530 buildings destroyed by fire.
Oct. 8, Chicago: the “Chicago Fire” burned 17,450 buildings and killed 250 people; $196 million in damage.
Nov. 9, Boston: fire destroyed 800 buildings; $75 million in damage.
Dec. 5, New York City: fire in Brooklyn Theater killed more than 300.
Dec. 8, Vienna: at least 620 died in fire at Ring Theatre.
May 1, Scofield, Utah: explosion of blasting powder in coal mine killed 200.
June 30, Hoboken, N.J.: piers of North German Lloyd Steamship line burned; 326 dead.
Dec. 30, Chicago: Iroquois Theatre fire killed 602.
Feb. 7, Baltimore, Md.: blaze spread through downtown Baltimore. More than 1,500 buildings were destroyed. Damages $150 million, but no lives lost
June 15, New York City, NY: the steamship ferry General Slocum ignited on a voyage to Long Island; over 1,000 dead.
March 10, France: explosion in coal mine in Courrières killed 1,060.
Dec. 6, Monongah, W. Va.: coal mine explosion killed 362.
Dec. 19, Jacobs Creek, Pa.: explosion in coal mine left 239 dead.
Jan. 13, Boyertown, Pa.: fire in Rhoads Opera House killed 170 people who were attending church-sponsored stage performance.
March 4, Collinwood, Ohio: fire in Collinwood school killed 176. Led to revision of fire codes for schools.
Nov. 13, Cherry, Ill.: explosion in coal mine killed 259.
March 25, New York City: fire in Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fatal to 145.
Oct. 22, Dawson, N.M.: coal mine explosion left 263 dead.
April 10, Eddystone, Pa.: explosion in munitions plant killed 133.
Dec. 6, Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia: Belgian steamer collided with ammunition ship Mont Blanc, which was carrying over 2,500 tons of explosives. Explosion leveled part of Halifax and left about 1,600 people dead.
Sept. 21, Oppau, Germany: ammonium nitrate exploded destroying the BASF plant and nearby houses, killing 430 people.
May 17, Beulah, S.C.: fire started by a candle during a Cleveland school play killed 77.
May 19, Mather, Pa.: coal mine explosion left 195 dead.
April 21, Columbus, Ohio: fire in Ohio State Penitentiary killed 320 convicts.
March 18, New London, Tex.: explosion de-stroyed schoolhouse; 294 killed.
April 23, Natchez, Mississippi: 209 die when a packed dance hall erupts in flames during a performance by Walter Barnes and His Royal Creolians Orchestra. The blaze is fueled by decorative Spanish moss covering the building's rafters, which generated flammable methane gas once burned. Among those to perish were Barnes and nine members of his band.
April 26, Manchuria: explosion in Honkeiko Colliery killed 1,549.
Nov. 28, Boston, Mass.: Coconut Grove nightclub fire killed 491.
July 6, Hartford, Conn.: fire and ensuing stampede in main tent of Ringling Brothers Circus killed 168 and injured 487.
July 17, Port Chicago, Calif.: 322 killed when ammunition ships exploded.
Oct. 20, Cleveland: spilled liquid natural gas exploded, killing 130.
Dec. 7, Atlanta: fire in Winecoff Hotel killed 119.
April 16–18, Texas City, Tex.: most of the city destroyed by a fire and subsequent explosion on the French freighter Grandcamp, which was carrying a cargo of ammonium nitrate. At least 516 were killed and over 3,000 injured.
Sept. 2, China: fire on Chongqing (Chungking) waterfront killed 1,700.
May 26, off Quonset Point, R.I.: explosion and fire on aircraft carrier Bennington killed 103.
Aug. 7, Colombia: seven army ammunition trucks exploded at Cali, killing about 1,100.
Aug. 8, Belgium: 262 died in coal mine fire at Marcinelle.
Dec. 1, Chicago: fire at Our Lady of Angels, a Roman Catholic grade school, resulted in deaths of 90 students and 3 nuns.
Jan. 21, Coalbrook, South Africa: coal mine explosion killed 437.
Nov. 13, Syria: 152 children killed in moviehouse fire.
Dec. 17, Niteroi, Brazil: circus fire fatal to 323.
Feb. 7, Saarland, West Germany: coal mine gas explosion killed 298.
Nov. 9, Japan: explosion in coal mine at Omuta killed 447.
May 28, India: coal mine fire in state of Bihar killed 375.
June 1, nr. Fukuoka, Japan: coal mine explosion killed 236.
May 22, Brussels, Belgium: fire in L'Innovation department store left 322 dead.
July 29, off North Vietnam: fire on U.S. carrier Forrestal killed 134.
Jan. 14, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii: nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise ripped by explosions; 27 dead, 82 injured.
Nov. 1, Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, France: fire in dance hall killed 146 young people.
May 13, Osaka, Japan: 118 people died in fire in nightclub on top floor of Sennichi department store.
June 6, Wankie, Rhodesia: explosion in coal mine killed 427.
Nov. 29, Kumamoto, Japan: fire in Taiyo department store killed 101.
Feb. 1, São Paulo, Brazil: fire in upper stories of bank building killed 189 people, many of whom leaped to their deaths.
Dec. 27, Dhanbad, India: explosion in coal mine followed by flooding from nearby reservoir left 372 dead.
May 28, Southgate, Ky.: fire in Beverly Hills Supper Club; 167 dead.
July 11, Tarragona, Spain: 140 killed at coastal campsite when tank truck carrying liquid gas overturned and exploded.
Aug. 20, Abadan, Iran: nearly 400 killed when arsonists set fire to crowded theater.
Dec. 18–21, Caracas, Venezuela: power-plant fire left 128 dead.
Dec. 31, San Juan, P.R.: fire in Dupont Plaza Hotel set by three employees, killing 96 people.
June 3, Ural Mountains: liquefied petroleum gas leaking from a pipeline alongside the Trans-Siberian railway near Uta, 72 mi east of Moscow, exploded and destroyed 2 passing passenger trains, killing 575 and injuring 723 of an estimated 1,200 passengers on both trains.
Oct. 23, Pasadena, Tex.: an explosion followed by a series of others and a fire at a Phillips Petroleum Co. plastics manufacturing plant killed 23 and injured 132 people. A large leak of ethylene was presumed to be the cause.
March 25, New York City: arson fire in the illegal Happy Land Social Club, in the Bronx, killed 87 people.
May 10, nr. Bangkok, Thailand: fire in doll factory killed at least 187 people and injured 500 others. World's deadliest factory fire.
March 24, Chamonix, France: fire in Belgian truck carrying margarine and flour in the Mont Blanc tunnel trapped dozens of cars. Death toll was at least 42.
Oct. 12, Aden, Yemen: U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole was heavily damaged when a small boat loaded with explosives blew up alongside it. Seventeen sailors were killed in what was apparently a deliberate terrorist attack.
Nov. 11, nr. Kaprun, Austria: cable car transporting skiers to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier broke into flames in a mountain tunnel, killing 156. It was Austria's worst Alpine disaster.
Dec. 25, Luoyang, China: at least 309 people were killed in fire at shopping center. Most of the victims had been attending Christmas party at unlicensed disco in building.
Jan. 27, Lagos, Nigeria: explosions at military depot triggered a stampede from the surrounding neighborhoods. More than 1,000 killed; many of the victims drowned in two muddy canals as they tried to flee.
June 20, Jixi, Heilongjian province, China: gas explosion at a coal mine killed 111 people. China's mining industry is one of the deadliest; it is estimated that more than 5,000 mining-related deaths occurred in 2001.
Feb. 18, Daegu, South Korea: subway fire, started by an arsonist, raced through two trains, killing 189 people and injuring more than 140.
Feb. 20, West Warwick, R.I.: fire, caused by a pyrotechnics display at a rock concert, engulfed a nightclub, The Station, killing 100 and injuring more than 150.
July and August, Portugal: fifteen people died during forest fires, intensified by unusually hot, dry air and strong winds, burned more than 350,000 hectares of land, and caused soil erosion that affected water supplies and agriculture. Fire damage costs added up to approximately one billion euros.
July 16, southern India: thatched roof of a school caught fire, killing 94 children.
Aug. 1, Asunción, Paraguay: fire, caused by a gas leak, in a supermarket killed at least 400 people.
Nov. 27, Shaanxi province, China: gas explosion at Chenjiashan Coal Mine in northwest China killed 166 miners. In October, another blast killed 148.
Dec. 30, Buenos Aires, Argentina: a lit flare started a fire at a nightclub, killing 175 people.
Feb. 14, Liaoning province, China: a gas explosion killed 209 miners at the Sujiawan mine. It was the deadliest reported mine disaster in China since 1949.
Jan. 1, Sago mine, W. Va.: thirteen mine workers were trapped underground for more than 40 hours after a methane explosion. Only one emerged alive. Subsequent investigation revealed that lightning was the most likely ignition source of the explosion.
March 19, Ulyanovskaya, Russia: a methane explosion in a coal mine killed 110 people, making it the worst mine disaster in recent Russian history.
May 24, Novokuznetsk, Russia: two months after the Ulyanovskaya explosion, another methane blast killed 38 in the nearby Yubileninaya coal mine.
June 18, Charleston, S.C.: Nine firefighters were killed when the roof collapsed during a fire in a furniture warehouse.
August 25–27, Greece: over 220 separate fires ravage the Greek countryside and endanger ancient Olympic sites around Athens. At least 59 people die in the blazes.
Oct. 21–25, southern, Calif.: 16 wildfires from Simi Valley to the Mexican border are fanned by 50 to 60 mph winds burning 500,000 acres. Three people die, 25 firefighters and civilians are injured, and nearly 1,300 homes are destroyed. Over 500,000 people evacuate their homes while nearly 1,000 firefighters fight the flames.
Feb. 7, Georgia, U.S.: an explosion at an Imperial Sugar Refinery near Savannah, Georgia kills 14 people and injures many more.
May 15, Nigeria: at least 100 people die and many more are injured when a construction vehicle strikes an oil pipeline, causing it to explode in Lagos, Nigeria.
Aug. 10, Toronto, Canada: explosions at the Sunrise Propane Industrial Gasses facility force thousands of people in Toronto to evacuate their homes. Some residents suffer injuries and one firefighter dies.
Oct. 14, California, U.S.: at least two people die and 10,000 acres of land burn when two wildfires hit the San Fernando Valley in California fanned by the Santa Ana winds.
Oct. 30, India: a series of explosions in the northeastern region of Assam kill at least 55 people and wound more than 200 more.
Nov. 15–18, California, U.S.: fueled by hurricane strength Santa Ana winds, three fires burn for several days consuming 40,000 acres of land and hundreds of homes. A state of emergency is called in five counties.
Dec. 11, Russia: an explosion during routine blasts for tunneling at a mine in the Murmansk region of northern Russia kills 12 people and injures 3 others.
Feb. 7 Australia: The worst wildfires in Australian history kill at least 181 people in the state of Victoria, injure more than a hundred, and destroy more than 900 houses. At least 50 people are still missing. At least one of the fires is suspected to be the work of arsonists. Australian officials criticize for failing to evacuate those in danger, according to The New York Times. There will be a government inquiry into the state's response to the fires.
Feb. 9, China: Illegal fireworks in Beijing, China?set off to celebrate the final day of festivities for the Lunar New Year?cause the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to catch fire. The hotel, part of China Central Television's headquarters, was under construction, leaving it more vulnerable to fire. CCTV hired the fireworks company and later apologized for the blaze. One firefighter is killed and seven people are injured.
June 16, western Indonesia: an explosion at a coal mine in the West Sumatra province kills six people and traps at least 24 more in the 300-foot mine.
April 5, West Virginia: An explosion in a West Virginia coal mine kills at least 25 people and leaves 4 unaccounted for. Officials do not yet know what caused the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, located about 30 miles south of Charleston. (Apr. 9): After days of searching for the missing miners, no more survivors are found, bringing the death toll of the mine explosion to 29. It is the worst mining disaster in the U.S. since 1970. Massey Energy, the mine's operator, is under investigation for a long list of safety violations over the past several years. Federal regulators have cited the mine for major safety violations eight times since April 2009.
April 20, Louisiana: An explosion on a BP oil drilling rig off the coast of Lousiana kills 11 people and injurs 17. Experts estimate that 13,000 gallons of crude oil per hour are pouring into the gulf of Mexico. (Apr. 26): Authorites estimate that the amount of oil spilling from leaks in the oil rig is approximately 42,000 gallons of crude oil per hour. Remote-controlled robots are being used to try and seal off the oil well. (Apr. 30): The oil slick from the rig explosion reaches the Gulf Coast of Lousiana. For the first time, President Obama criticizes BP's handling of the crisis; he chatizes the company for not stemming the flow of oil and cleaning up the spill before it reached land.
May 8, Russia: At least 43 people are dead in two mine blasts in the Siberian city of Mezhdurechensk. Those rescuers who were attempting to save miners from the initial blast are among those who have perished. Forty-seven others are reportedly still trapped in the mine.
June 11, Arizona and New Mexico: Two fires in Arizona merge into one runaway 600-square-mile blaze that continues to elude over 4,000 firefighters. Investigators believe that the fires were likely started by an unattended campfire. Thousands of residents leave their homes for evacuation centers. The Wallow Fire, named after the Bear Wallow Wilderness in the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests, continues to burn despite the number of firefighters and an estimated $15 million spent. (June 14:) The Wallow Fire still burns through east Arizona and neighboring New Mexico, becoming the largest fire in Arizona's history. The fire destroys more than 538,000 acres, surpassing the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire which burned through 468,000 acres. The Wallow Fire has destroyed 32 homes, 4 commercial buidlings, and 36 outbuildings.
June 30, New Mexico:In northern New Mexico, the Las Conchas wildfire becomes the largest in the state's history, burning through almost 103,000 acres. Firefighters keep the fire from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a nuclear research facility. The laboratory sits on a 36-square-mile property and remains closed while the fire rages near the property's boundaries. Burning since June 26, the fire is only 3% contained.
Sept. 9, Texas: Wildfires consume tens of thousands of acres in drought-stricken areas of Texas. Two people have been killed by the fast-moving fires. In Bastrop County, east of Austin and the location of the biggest fire, 500 homes have been destroyed, 25,000 acres have burned and 5,000 people have been evacuated. The wildfires are fueled by high winds and a devastating drought?the state's worst. (Sept. 11): The number of homes that have been destroyed by the wildfires in Texas rises to 1,554 and 17 people are missing. The biggest fire is about 30 miles east of Austin and is currently 50% contained.
Jan. 20, Nevada: More than 10,000 people are forced to evacuate when a fast-moving brush fire breaks out near Reno, Nevada. One person is dead and at least 26 homes have been destroyed.
Feb. 14, Honduras: Over 300 people are killed at a prison in Honduras when an inmate sets fire to his mattress. The fire quickly spreads. Most of the victims die in their cells, awaiting rescue. Some inmates, now fugitives, escape through the roof. Relatives, attempting to rescue loved ones, clash with police at the prison gate.
June 1, New Mexico and Colorado: A massive wildfire continues to spread in New Mexico. The fire is burning through 190,000 acres of the Gila National Forest. More than 1,200 firefighters are on hand, trying to battle the wildfire, already the largest in the state's history. (June 11): A wildfire burns across 60 square miles in the Colorado mountains, 15 miles west of Fort Collins. The fire destroys more than 100 buildings and houses. The body of a 62-year-old woman is found among the damage caused by the fire. In New Mexico, hundreds of people flee a wildfire burning near Ruidoso. The fire burns 54 square miles wide. Meanwhile, the largest fire New Mexico's history continues to burn through the Gila National Forest. According to officials that fire is raging across 434 square miles and is only 37 percent contained. (June 27): At least 32,000 people are evacuated in Colorado as a wildfire burns close to Colorado Springs. The fire is one of nearly a dozen burning in Colorado. Military aircraft tankers are called in to help battle the fires. Surveying the fire near Colorado Springs from the air, Gov. John Hickenlooper says, "This is the worse fire season in the history of Colorado."
Jan. 27, Brazil: A fire breaks out in a nightclub in Santa Maria. The cause of the fire is a flare from pyrotechnics used by a band performing on stage at the club. At the time of the fire, the club is packed with hundreds of students from nearby universities. According to officials, at least 233 people are killed.
Feb. 15, Russia: Meteorite Fragments Injure Hundreds in Russia (Feb. 15): Debris from a meteor hit Siberia and more than 1,000 people are hurt, including 200 children. The injuries are mostly from shattered glass, which occurred when the meteor entered the atmosphere and exploded over Russia. Russian scientists believe that the 10-ton meteor exploded and created a shock wave when it hit the Earth's atmosphere. They believe the meteor exploded and evaporated about 30 miles above the Earth, but small fragments fell to the Earth's surface. Most of the people injured are residents of Chelyabinsk, a city about 950 miles east of Moscow. Chelyabinsk has many factories that build nuclear weapons, but the damage caused no radiation leaks, according to Russian officials.
June, Colorado: Several Wildfires Burn through Colorado (June): Several wildfires erupt in Colorado due to dry and dead evergreen trees. The trees are particularly vulnerable this year from drought and a spruce beetle outbreak. The fire causing the most damage is in a suburb near Colorado Springs. That fire destroys more than 500 homes and kills two people. The largest fire, about 70,000 acres in size, burns through southern Colorado. Even though it forces the evacuation of at least 1,000 people, it causes less damage than the suburban Colorado Springs fire due to its location.
June 30, Arizona: Elite Firefighters Killed in Arizona (June 30): Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots are killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. The wind suddenly changed direction, giving the firefighters little time to escape its path. The fire consumed 8,000 acres. It was the worst single loss of firefighters since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Aug. 17, many states: As of mid-August, 34 wildfires are burning in eleven states. There are ten wildfires in Idaho alone. Idaho residents near the town of Ketchum are forced from their homes as 1,200 firefighters battle the state's biggest wildfire, which currently burns across 1,000 acres. More than 2,300 homes have been evacuated so far in central Idaho. The fire is six percent contained. (Aug. 26): One of the biggest fires in California's history continues to spread near Yosemite National Park. The fire, which is being referred to as the Rim Fire, is seven percent contained and has burned through 144,000 acres, making it the 14th largest fire in California since 1932, the year the state started keeping wildfire records. The size of the fire is roughly the size of Chicago. The fire's location makes it a threat to San Francisco's electrical and water supply. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are battling the blaze.
Oct. 22, Australia: Australia's New South Wales is facing its worst fire emergency in almost 50 years. Dozens of fires have broken out across the state. As of October 22, 2013, 60 fires still burn, and 14 of those are described as out of control. Just west of Sydney, two fires merge into one mega fire. Thick smoke reaches as far as Sydney's famous opera house. At least 200 homes are destroyed. Many more are damaged. According to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, 2013 will most likely become the hottest year on record in the country. September 2013 is Australia's hottest September ever. Little rain and high winds add to the extreme situation.
Aug. 12, China: At a warehouse in the port city of Tianjin, China, multiple explosions kill at least 114 people. Another 70 people are missing, including 64 firefighters. Dozens of homes are damaged in the blast. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the blast, including possible abuse of power and dereliction of duty. The warehouse stores hazardous materials, including 700 tons of sodium cyanide. Because of the explosion and the large amount of materials being stored, which is a violation of safety rules, a massive cleanup is underway in Tianjin.
Aug. 16, Western United States: Firefighters work to contain several fires throughout multiple western states, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Montana, and California. The wildfires are moving rapidly due to wind, heat, and drought conditions. Thousands of people are evacuated from the region. Many people in Washington have lost power. Several homes and buildings are destroyed in Oregon, Idaho, and California. In Montana, fires burn on the Flathead Indian Reservation and in Glacier National Park.

Jan. 27, Brazil: A fire breaks out in a nightclub in Santa Maria. The cause of the fire is a flare from pyrotechnics used by a band performing on stage at the club. At the time of the fire, the club is packed with hundreds of students from nearby universities. According to officials, at least 233 people are killed.
Sept. 20, California: So far in 2014, 4,974 wildfires have burned 92,139 acres in California. That is 1,000 more wildfires than California usually has per year by Sept. 20. The most alarming factor is that the fires have come ahead of fall, the peak fire season when, in the past, the Santa Ana winds have fueled many wildfires. During an update, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Unit Chief Mike Kaslin says, "These times are unprecedented here in California in respect to fire behavior."
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