Each year, millions of acres across the U.S. are burned in wildfires. Dry conditions, fierce winds, and human activity are often factors in the most dangerous blazes but fire season is also simply a part of nature's cycle. "Fire's not the enemy. We have to take care of fire, we have to manage fire, we have to be aware of wildfire but we don't want to demonize it," says Ken Frederick, former firefighter and public affairs specialist at the National Interagency Fire Center.
Even though California and eastern Oregon are currently in severe droughts, this year has been surprisingly tame. Only about one-third of the expected acreage has burned and 30 percent fewer fires have started than predicted by trends from the last decade. Still, this is no reason to ignore potential danger – the past has proven that late fire seasons can be just as deadly. A rule of thumb from Frederick: if pencil-sized sticks are cracking underfoot, conditions are primed for fiery destruction.
Great Chicago, 1871
Credit: Chicago History Museum / Getty Images
The Place: Illinois
The Underlying Cause: Undetermined
The Devastation: About 17,500 buildings and 250 lives were lost. The damaged totaled around $200 million.
What Is Noteworthy about This Fire: In the 20 years prior to the Great Fire, Chicago's population had tripled. As a result, the poor neighborhoods near the downtown area were very congested. They were also largely made of wood. Because of these characteristics and dry weather, small fires were fairly common. On the night previous to the Great Chicago Fire, a separate blaze had already pushed firefighters to the point of exhaustion and damaged some of their equipment.