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Maui wildfire now ranks as the fifth-deadliest in US history

Paula Ramon/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — With dozens of people still unaccounted for, the conflagration that has caused widespread devastation across the Hawaiian island of Maui is now the fifth-deadliest wildland fire in U.S. history.

As of Tuesday night, Maui emergency officials said 106 people have been confirmed dead in the fire, and cautioned that the death toll will likely climb.

The blaze, which started on Aug. 8 on Hawaii’s second-largest island, has already surpassed death tolls tallied in California’s biggest wildfires in recent years, including the Camp Fire, which ripped across Butte County in November 2018, claiming the lives of 85 people and destroying the town of Paradise.

The cause of the Maui fire remains under investigation.

As in previous massive wildland blazes across the nation, the Maui fire was fueled by a combination of drought-parched landscapes and strong winds, officials said.

As firefighters continue to battle flare-ups, the Maui firestorm has been described by authorities as the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history, surpassing the 61 deaths that occurred in a 1960 tsunami that was triggered by a 9.5 magnitude earthquake in southwest Chile.

While Hawaii’s history of natural disasters includes floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic lava flows, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen told ABC News that he has never seen the type of devastation caused by the wildfire.

“The closest thing I can compare it to is perhaps a war zone or maybe a bomb went off,” Bissen said.

In addition to California’s Camp Fire, the Maui blaze has exceeded the 65 deaths caused by The Yacolt Burn on the Washington-Oregon border in 1902; the 44 deaths caused by the October Fire Siege that swept across Northern California’s Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties in 2017; and the 31 deaths caused by the August Complex Fire in coastal Northern California in 2020, according to data from Cal Fire and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The Maui fire has also surpassed the death toll from the so-called Great Fire of 1910, in which 87 people perished in a wildland blaze in Northern Idaho and Western Montana, according to the NFPA.

The deadliest known wildland fire in the United States, and in the world, remains the 1871 conflagration in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, which killed 1,547 people.

Also among the top five deadliest U.S. wildland fires are the October 1918 Cloquet, Minnesota, blaze that killed 559 people; a forest fire in Hinckley, Minnesota, in September 1894 that killed 418 people; and the Thumb Fire in the Thumb region of Michigan, in which 282 people perished in September 1894, according to the NFPA.

Other deadly wildfires worldwide include the 1997 Sumatra and Kalimantan fires in Indonesia that killed 240 people; the Black Dragon Fire in 1987 that killed 191 people in China’s Daxing’anling Prefecture; the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Australia, in which 180 people died; and the 2018 Attica wildfire in Neos Voutzas, Greece, which killed 100 people.

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