Large-loss fires in the United States

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Report: NFPA's "Large-Loss Fires in the United States"
Author: Stephen G. Badger
Issued: November 2013

Incident descriptions and summary statistics on fires causing $10 million or more in damage in 2012.

Introduction

In 2012, the fire with the highest loss in terms of direct property damage was a wildland fire. In fact, two of the three largest losses last year involved wildfires, reported at $453.7 million and $113.7 million, respectively. (The second-biggest large-loss fire in 2012 was a $400 million fire on a submarine.) Wildland events have produced fires resulting in the largest direct property damage in seven of the past 10 years.

The costliest fire of 2012 was the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado, which broke out at about noon on Saturday, June 23. It began in the Pike National Forest, three miles from Colorado Springs. The fire initially spread from the Waldo and Williams canyons west of Colorado Springs and moved east toward the city, fueled by brush, oak, grass mountain shrub, pinyon juniper, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, spruce, and limber pine. By 12:20 p.m., the first air tanker was requested. Firefighting efforts, as well as a wind shift, prevented the fire from entering one residential neighborhood. But on the fourth day of the fire, winds of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) pushed the fire into several other neighborhoods. As the fire grew, there were many voluntary and mandatory evacuations involving 26,000 homes, and more than 52,000 people were ordered out, including the staff, students, and tourists at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The fire burned 18,247 acres (7,384 hectares) as well as 346 structures (including homes and outbuildings) over 18 days and was not fully contained until July 10. It was the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. There were two civilian deaths attributed to the Waldo Canyon Fire, and the cause of the fire is under investigation

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