Extent of the fire in red
|Date||October 8, 1871|
The Peshtigo Fire was a forest fire that took place on October 8, 1871 in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was a firestorm that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, killing as many as 1,500, possibly as many as 2,500. Occurring on the same day as the more famous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire has been largely forgotten. On the same day as the Peshtigo and Chicago fires the cities of Holland and Manistee, Michigan, across Lake Michigan, also burned, and the same fate befell Port Huron at the southern end of Lake Huron.
On the day of the fire, a cold front moved in from the west, bringing strong winds that fanned smaller fires and escalated them to massive proportions. A firestorm ensued. In the words of one author, "A firestorm is called nature's nuclear explosion. Here's a wall of flame, a mile high, five miles (8 km) wide, traveling 90 to 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), hotter than a crematorium, turning sand into glass."  By the time it was over, 1,875 square miles (4,860 km² or 1.2 million acres) of forest had been consumed, an area approximately twice the size of Rhode Island. Some sources list 1.5 million acres (6,100 km²) burned. Twelve communities were destroyed. An accurate death toll has never been determined because local records were destroyed in the fire. Between 1,200 and 2,500 people are thought to have lost their lives. The 1873 Report to the Wisconsin Legislature listed 1,182 names of deceased or missing residents. In 1870, the Town of Peshtigo had 1,749 residents. More than 350 bodies were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that no one remained alive who could identify many of them.
The fire was so intense it jumped several miles over the waters of Green Bay and burned parts of the Door Peninsula, as well as jumping the Peshtigo River itself to burn on both sides of the inlet town. Survivors reported that the firestorm generated a tornado that threw rail cars and houses into the air. Many escaped the flames by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River, wells, or other nearby bodies of water. Some drowned, and others succumbed to hypothermia in the frigid river. The Green Island Light was kept lit during the day because of the obscuring smoke, but the three-masted schooner George L. Newman was wrecked offshore; the crew was rescued without loss.
Comet theory 
One speculation, first suggested in 1883, is that the occurrence of the Peshtigo and Chicago fires on the same day was not just a coincidence, but that all the major fires that occurred in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin on that day were caused by the impact of fragments from Comet Biela. This theory was revived in a 1985 book and investigated in a 2004 paper to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Scientists with expertise in the area dispute that meteorites can ignite a fire; meteorites are cold to the touch when they reach the Earth's surface, and there are no credible reports of any fire anywhere having been started by a meteorite. Additionally, various aspects of the behaviors of the Chicago and Peshtigo fires attributed to extraterrestrial intervention have more mundane explanations. In any event, no external source of ignition was needed; numerous small fires were already burning in the area after a tinder-dry summer, generating so much smoke that the Green Island Light was kept lit 24 hours a day for weeks before the main fire. All that was needed to generate the firestorm, as well as other fires in the Midwest, were the winds from the front that moved in that evening.
The Peshtigo Fire Museum, just west of U.S. Route 41, has a small collection of artifacts from the fire, first-person descriptions of the event, and a graveyard dedicated to victims of the tragedy. A memorial commemorating the fire was dedicated on October 8, 2012 at the bridge over the Peshtigo River.
The combination of wind, topography, and ignition sources that created the firestorm, primarily representing the conditions at the boundaries of human settlement and natural areas, is known as the Peshtigo Paradigm. The condition was closely studied by the American and British military during World War II to learn how to recreate firestorm conditions for bombing campaigns against cities in Germany and Japan. The bombing of Dresden and the even more severe one of Tokyo by incendiary devices resulted in death tolls comparable to or exceeding those of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, located on the Door Peninsula, was threatened by the fire, but survived. It remains today, although not as originally constructed. The site is a Marian shrine, where visitors can make religious pilgrimage. The site was unscathed by the flames after Adele Brise and others who had taken refuge there refused to leave and begged the Virgin Mary to save them. A procession was held at the time and is now repeated.
In popular culture 
In the book The Fire Rose, the first of the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, the fires are said to be the result of combat between two Firemaster mages, one in Peshtigo and one in the South Side of Chicago.
See also 
Other October 8, 1871, fires 
Other fire disasters in the Great Lakes 
- Biondich, S. (2010-06-09). "The Great Peshtigo Fire". ExpressMilwaukee.com. Shepherd Express. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
- Scott Knickelbine, The Great Peshtigo Fire: Stories and Science from America's Deadliest Firestorm. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012.
- Christine Gibson. Our 10 Greatest Natural Disasters," American Heritage, (August/September 2006).
- John Gordon. Steele. "Forgotten Fury," American Heritage, (April/May 2003). Retrieved 7-29-2010.
- Hemphill, Stephanie (2002-11-27). "Peshtigo: a tornado of fire revisited". News and Features. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
- Gess, D.; Lutz, W. (2003). Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8050-7293-8. OCLC 52421495.
- United States Census Bureau. The Statistics of the Population of the United States ... Compiled, from the Original Returns of the Ninth Census (June 1, 1870), Vol. 1. Washington, DC: G.P.O., 1872, p. 292.
- registered historic marker (Image:PeshtigoFireCemetery.jpg), dated 1951, accessed August 26, 2007
- Hipke, Deana C. "The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871". Retrieved 2013-01-26.
- "Green Island Lighthouse". Terry Pepper. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
- Waskin, Mel (1985). Mrs. O'Leary's Comet: Cosmic Causes of the Great Chicago Fire. Academy Chicago Publishers. ISBN 0897331818.
- Wood, Robert M. (2004). "Did Biela’s Comet Cause The Chicago And Midwest Fires?" (PDF). American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
- Calfee, Mica (2003-02). "Was It A Cow Or A Meteorite?". Meteorite Magazine 9 (1). Retrieved 2011-11-10.
- "Meteorites Don't Pop Corn". NASA Science. NASA. 2001-07-27. Retrieved 2011-11-10.
- Bales, R. F.; Schwartz, T. F. (April 2005). "Debunking Other Myths". The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. McFarland. pp. 101–104. ISBN 978-0-7864-2358-3. OCLC 68940921.
- Bales, R. F.; Schwartz, T. F. (April 2005). "Debunking Other Myths". The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. McFarland. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-7864-2358-3. OCLC 68940921.
- "Keepers of the Light - 1871 account". Survivor Stories of the Peshtigo Fire. Oconto County WIGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
- "Large Crowd Attends Fire Monument Event." 2012. Peshtigo Times (11 October).
- Peshtigo Paradigm[dead link]
- Cipin, Vojtech (2011). "Troubles and Miracles". Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
Further reading 
- Ball, Jacqueline A. Wildfire! The 1871 Peshtigo Firestorm. New York: Bearport Pub., 2005. ISBN 1597160113.
- Bergstrom, Bill. Peshtigo. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2003. ISBN 1401098894.
- Pernin, Peter. "The Great Peshtigo Fire: An Eyewitness Account," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 54: 4 (Summer, 1971), 246-272.
- Wells, Robert W. Fire at Peshtigo. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.
- "The Fire Fiend" New York Times, October 13, 1871.
- DeLaluzern, Guillaume (Oct 1871). "IN WISCONSIN. Particulars of the Burning of Williamsonville and Peshtigo - Frightful Number of Deaths". Peshtigo, WI: Green Bay Wisconsin Advocate.
- Geyer, Rev. Kurt (October 6, 1921). "History of the Peshtigo fire, October 8, 1871". Peshtigo Times. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- Hipke, Deana C. The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 Website about fire with survivors' stories.
- "Peshtigo: a tornado of fire revisited". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- "Survivor's stories". Rootsweb.com. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- "Pictures of the fire memorial". Find-A-Grave. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- Peshtigo Fire at Wisconsin Historical Society's Dictionary of Wisconsin History
- "Peshtigo fire photos". Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved March 1, 2013.