The August Complex fire in 2020, the largest fire in California's history

A conflagration is a large fire.[1] Conflagrations often damage human life, animal life, health, and/or property. A conflagration can begin accidentally or be intentionally created (arson). A very large fire can produce a firestorm, in which the central column of rising heated air induces strong inward winds, which supply oxygen to the fire. Conflagrations can cause casualties including deaths or injuries from burns, trauma due to collapse of structures and attempts to escape, and smoke inhalation.

Firefighting is the practice of extinguishing a conflagration, protecting life and property and minimizing damage and injury. One of the goals of fire prevention is to avoid conflagrations. When a conflagration is extinguished, there is often a fire investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

Burned trees in front the Montagna di Vernà, Peloritani mountains, Sicily

Causes and types

During a conflagration a significant movement of air and combustion products occurs.[2] Hot gaseous products of combustion move upward, causing the influx of more dense cold air to the combustion zone. Sometimes, the influx is so intense that the fire grows into a firestorm.[3]

Inside a building, the intensity of gas exchange depends on the size and location of openings in walls and floors, the ceiling height, and the amount and characteristics of the combustible materials.

Notable examples

Main article: List of historic fires

Ostankino Tower fire
A fire in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
Beijing Television Cultural Center fire
A fire in a school in Aberdeen, Washington
Place Year Conflagration Notes
Alexandria, Egypt 48 BCE Burning of the library of Alexandria
Rome, Roman Empire 64 Great Fire of Rome Large parts of ancient Rome destroyed
Bremen, Archbishopric of Bremen, Holy Roman Empire 1041 Fire of Bremen most of the old city including the cathedral destroyed
Lübeck, County of Holstein, Holy Roman Empire 1157 1157 Fire of Lübeck Destruction of the city
Lübeck, County of Holstein, Holy Roman Empire 1251 1251 Fire of Lübeck Triggered use of stone as a fire-safe building material
Lübeck, County of Holstein, Holy Roman Empire 1276 1276 Fire of Lübeck Northern part of old city destroyed. Triggered system of fire protection. Last fire until the bombing of WW II
Munich, Duchy of Bavaria, Holy Roman Empire 1327 Fire of Munich Ca. 1/3 of the city destroyed
Bern, Switzerland 1405 1405 Fire of Bern 600 houses destroyed, over 100 deaths
Moscow, Tsardom of Russia 1547 1547 Great Fire of Moscow 2,700 to 3,700 fatalities; 80,000 displaced
Moscow, Tsardom of Russia 1571 1571 Fire of Moscow 10,000 to 80,000 casualties
London, England 1613 Burning of the Globe Theatre[10] During performance, cannon misfire caught the thatched roof on fire and the Theatre burned down
Aachen, Holy Roman Empire 1656 Fire of Aachen 4,664 houses destroyed, 17 deaths
Edo, Japan 1657 Great Fire of Meireki 30,000 to 100,000 fatalities, 60-70% of the city was destroyed
London, England 1666 Great Fire of London 13,200 houses and 87 churches were destroyed
Rostock, Holy Roman Empire 1677 1677 Fire of Rostock ca. 700 houses destroyed. Accelerated the city's economic decline at the end of the Hanseatic period
Copenhagen, Denmark 1728 Copenhagen Fire of 1728 1700 houses destroyed (28% of the city), 15,000 people made homeless
Tartu, Estonia 1775 Great fire of Tartu Up to 2/3 of the city was destroyed
Copenhagen, Denmark 1795 Copenhagen Fire of 1795 900 houses destroyed, 6,000 people made homeless
Kyiv 1811 Great Podil fire Over 2,000 houses, 12 churches and 3 abbeys razed, 30 deaths
Moscow, Russian Empire 1812 1812 Fire of Moscow Estimated that 75% of the city was destroyed
Hamburg, German Confederation 1842 Great Fire of Hamburg 25% of the inner city destroyed
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. 1849 Great St. Louis Fire 430 homes and 23 ships destroyed, but only 3 dead
Santiago, Chile 1863 Church of the Company Fire 2,000 to 3,000 fatalities
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 1864 Great Fire of Brisbane Over four city blocks burned with over 50 houses razed and dozens of businesses
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. 1864 Atlanta Campaign during American Civil War About 11/12ths of the city burned: more than 4,000 houses, shops, stores, mills, and depots; only about 450 buildings escaped damage
Portland, Maine, U.S. 1866 1866 Great fire of Portland, Maine 1800 structures destroyed on peninsula/downtown area; 10,000 left displaced and homeless
Peshtigo, Wisconsin, U.S. 1871 Peshtigo Fire Resulted in most deaths by a single fire event in U.S. history (1500-2500)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S. 1871 Great Chicago Fire 200 to 300 fatalities; 17,000 buildings were destroyed
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. 1872 Boston Fire Over 700 buildings destroyed
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. 1874 Great Mill Disaster 18 believed fatalities
New York City, U.S. 1876 Brooklyn Theater Fire 273–300 fatalities
Hoboken, New Jersey, U.S. 1900 Great Hoboken Pier Fire 4 ships burned, killing up to 400 people
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. 1901 Great Fire of 1901 8-hour fire destroyed over 2,300 buildings and displaced almost 10,000 people
Chicago 1903 Iroquois Theater Fire Deadliest single-building fire in U.S. history, with 602 victims
New York City 1904 Burning of the steamship General Slocum Over 1000 fatalities
San Francisco, California, U.S. 1906 Result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake Up to 3000 victims; over 95% of city burned
Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S. 1908 First Great Chelsea Fire 1500 buildings destroyed, 11,000 left homeless, when a fire at the Boston Blacking Company was fanned by 40 mph (64 km/h) winds and raced across the Chelsea Rag District, a several-block area of dilapidated wood-frame buildings housing textile and paper scrap. Half the city was destroyed. Same conditions and origin area of the Second Great Chelsea Fire (1973).
Idaho, U.S. 1910 Massive forest fire known as the Big Burn 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) burned out, 75 dead.
New York City 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Killed 146 garment factory workers; 4th deadliest industrial disaster in U.S. history
Tokyo, Japan 1923 1923 Great Kantō earthquake Fire broke out following the earthquake, half the city was razed and over 100,000 died
Columbus, Ohio, U.S. 1930 Ohio Penitentiary fire 322 fatalities, 150 seriously injured
Berlin, Germany 1933 Reichstag Fire Destruction of the Reichstag, seat of the German Parliament
Coventry, England 1940 Coventry Blitz Over 800 fatalities; most of the city was destroyed
Stalingrad, U.S.S.R. 1942 Firestorm resulting from German air bombardment 955 fatalities (original Soviet estimate)
Boston 1942 Cocoanut Grove fire Nightclub fire killed 492 and injured hundreds more
Hamburg, Germany 1943 Firestorm resulting from air bombardment 35,000 to 45,000 victims, 12 km2 (4.6 sq mi) of the city destroyed
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S. 1944 Hartford Circus Fire when tent burned 168 killed and over 700 injured
Dresden, Germany 1945 Firestorm resulting from Allied bombing Up to 25,000 fatalities during the three-day bombing; 39 km2 (15 sq mi) of the city destroyed
Tokyo, Japan 1945 Devastating conflagration resulting from B-29 raids during Operation Meetinghouse Up to 100,000 fatalities and 41 km2 (16 sq mi) of the city destroyed; similar fires hit the Japanese cities of Kobe and Osaka
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan 1945 Firestorm developed 30 minutes after the bombing of Hiroshima, but only a conflagration developed at Nagasaki[11] Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see nuclear explosion)
Texas City, Texas, U.S. 1947 Texas City disaster Cargo ship Grandcamp caught fire and exploded, destroying most of the harbor and killing 600 people
Seaside Heights & Seaside Park, New Jersey, United States 1955 The Freeman Pier Fire At least 30 businesses lost, 50 residents evacuated, no major injuries[12][13][14]
Chicago 1958 Our Lady of the Angels School Fire 95 fatalities, 100 wounded
Singapore 1961 Bukit Ho Swee Fire 4 fatalities, over 2800 homes destroyed, 15,694 people left homeless
Brussels, Belgium 1967 L'Innovation Department Store fire 322 victims, 150 wounded
Gulf of Tonkin 1967 USS Forrestal fire Fire aboard aircraft carrier during Vietnam War, killed 134 sailors and injured 161
Tasmania, Australia 1967 1967 Tasmanian fires Severe wildfires that claimed 62 lives, 900 injured, displaced 7,000, and destroyed 264,000 hectares (2,640 km2) of land including 1293 homes
Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S. 1973 Second Great Chelsea Fire 18 city blocks destroyed when a firestorm raced across the Chelsea Rag District, a several-block area of dilapidated wood-frame buildings housing textile and paper scrap. The same conditions and origin area of the First Great Chelsea Fire (1908)
Southgate, Kentucky, U.S. 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire 165 fatalities
Minneapolis 1982 Minneapolis Thanksgiving Day Fire Two people convicted of arson in setting fire to a Donaldson's department store, which in turn destroyed a full city block of downtown Minneapolis
San Juanico, Mexico 1984 San Juanico Disaster Fire and explosions at a liquid petroleum gas tank farm killed 500-600 people and 5,000-7,000 others suffered severe burns; local town of San Juan Ixhuatepec devastated
Bradford, England 1985 Bradford City stadium fire 52 victims
London 1987 King's Cross fire Conflagration in London Underground station killed 31 people
Waco, Texas 1993 Mount Carmel Center, the compound of the Branch Davidians cult Final day of the Waco siege, resulting in deaths of 76 cult members; question of who actually started the fires remains unanswered[15]
Dabwali, India 1995 Dabwali tent fire 540 deaths[16]
New York City and Washington, D.C., U.S. 2001 September 11 attacks 2,606 victims killed in New York City as fires caused both twin towers of the World Trade Center to collapse, following impacts by two hijacked airliners. In Washington, D.C., 125 victims at the Pentagon were killed by the hijacked plane crash and subsequent fire.
West Warwick, Rhode Island, U.S. 2003 The Station nightclub fire 100 killed and over 200 injured in fire at rock concert
Asunción, Paraguay 2004 Ycuá Bolaños supermarket fire Almost 400 fatalities
Hemel Hempstead, England 2005 Hertfordshire oil storage terminal fire The largest fire in peacetime Britain
Greece 2007 2007 Greek forest fires 84 victims in over 3,000 wildfires destroying 670,000 acres (2,700 km2) of land
Victoria, Australia 2009 Black Saturday bushfires 173 victims in over 400 separate bushfires which burned 450,000 hectares (4,500 km2)
Near Haifa, Israel 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire (2010) 44 victims, 12,000 acres (49 km2) of bush/forest destroyed
Comayagua, Honduras 2012 Comayagua prison fire 382 fatalities
Karachi and
Lahore, Pakistan
2012 2012 Pakistan garment factory fires About 315 fatalities, over 250 injured in 2 fires on a single day
Santa Maria, Brazil 2013 Kiss nightclub fire At least 232 fatalities and 117 hospitalized[17]
Seaside Heights & Seaside Park, New Jersey, U.S. 2013 Boardwalk fire At least 19 buildings destroyed, 30 businesses lost, no major injuries[18]
Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta, Canada 2016 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire Destroyed 2400 buildings and burned 589,552 hectares (1,456,810 acres) forcing the evacuation of 80,000 residents.
London, United Kingdom 2017 Grenfell Tower fire On 14 June 2017, a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, causing the deaths of 72 people and injured 74.
Sonoma County, California, U.S. 2017 Tubbs Fire 36,807 acres burned, 5,400 structures destroyed, 22 fatalities[19]
Paço de São Cristóvão, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2018 National Museum of Brazil fire On 2 September 2018, a fire broke out at Paço de São Cristóvão in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which housed the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil. The museum held more than 20 million items, of which almost 90 percent were lost.
Notre-Dame de Paris 2019 Notre-Dame de Paris Fire The fire of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris was a violent fire that erupted in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. It began at the end of the afternoon of April 15, 2019, on the roof of the building, causing considerable damage. The cathedral's needle and roof collapsed, and the interior and artefacts it housed were severely damaged.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., "Conflagration"
  2. ^ "Conflagration".
  3. ^ "California wildfires rage, north and south, killing at least nine and putting tens of thousands at risk". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  4. ^ Kramer, William Michael (2009). Disaster Planning and Control. Fire Engineering Books. ISBN 9781593701895.
  5. ^ Metz, M; et al. (2013). Pile Foundations Baltic Piling Days 2012. CRC Pr I Llc. p. 38. ISBN 978-0415643344.
  6. ^ "New Museum Plans for Turku's Great Fire Anniversary". News Now Finland. September 4, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2021.
  7. ^ Karl Heinrich Schleiden: Versuch einer Geschichte des großen Brandes in Hamburg vom 5. bis 8. Mai 1842. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 1843. (in German).
  8. ^ [1] The Return of the Urban Firestorm … What happened in Colorado was something much scarier than a wildfire | By David Wallace-Wells | Intelligencer | Jan. 1, 2022
  9. ^ "CHIPS Articles: NRL RDT&E; Protecting Ships and Crew". Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
  10. ^ "The First Globe". Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. The Shakespeare Globe Trust. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  11. ^ Glasstone, Samuel; Dolan, Philip J., eds. (1977), "Chapter VII — Thermal Radiation and Its Effects" (PDF), The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (Third ed.), United States Department of Defense and the Energy Research and Development Administration, p. 304, Nagasaki probably did not furnish sufficient fuel for the development of a fire storm as compared to the many buildings on the flat terrain at Hiroshima.
  12. ^ Salvini, Emil R. (June 30, 2009). "The Freeman Pier Fire- 1955- Seaside". Tales of the New Jersey Shore and its Environs.
  13. ^ "Seaside begins rebuilding as fire ashes cool". The Star-Ledger. Seaside Heights. 1955.
  14. ^ "Fire Loss High, Insurance Low; Concessions Listed". Seaside Heights. 1955.
  15. ^ "The Siege at Waco". Crimes of the Century. Season 1. Episode 7. August 25, 2013. CNN.
  16. ^ Arnold, Jim (April 7, 2005), Large Building Fires and Subsequent Code Changes (PDF), Clark County Department of Development Services, Building Division, p. 18 (Item 55), archived from the original (PDF) on December 7, 2008
  17. ^ Barbassa, Juliana; Sigaja, Marco (January 27, 2013). "Brazil Nightclub Fire Kills At Least 232 People". The Huffington Post.
  18. ^ Double Down (September 12, 2013). "Seaside Businesses Impacted by the Boardwalk Fire". WKXW, New Jersey 101.5 FM Radio.
  19. ^ Cal Fire (October 23, 2017). "Top 20 Most Destructive California Wildfires" (PDF). State of California - Cal Fire. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2019. Retrieved 27 October 2017.