October 8, 1871 Fires Were The Worst In US History

If this happened now, the death toll would be tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

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Papers Past — Nelson Evening Mail — 11 December 1871 — AWFUL TORNADO AND FIRES IN AMERICA.

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5 Responses to October 8, 1871 Fires Were The Worst In US History

  1. Jason Calley says:

    By the way, if you ever have a chance to read a book titled “Mrs. O’Leary’s Comet” it has a really great collection of first person descriptions of the various fires that day. Horrific fires! I am not convinced by the author’s argument that the fires were caused by cometary fragments, but I certainly applaud his work in compiling so many diverse sources.

  2. Eric Simpson says:

    Pestigo, perhaps the most horrific intense freaky fire ever:

    It was the pretty little village of Peshtigo, in Marinette (at that time Oconto) county, that felt the destruction most when, as Stewart Holbrook put it, “All hell rode into town on the back of a wind.”

    A low moan in the distance soon turned into a deafening roar. Slabs of fire, hurled by the inferno which had gained in intensity to the point where it was generating it’s own weather pattern, including tornadoes of fire, fell on the sawdust streets, plank sidewalks, and roof tops. Superheated winds rushing before the fire-storm were intense enough to snap large virgin timber like twigs and toss railroad cars about like toys. In Peshtigo, as startled residents crowded onto doorsteps, the sidewalks and roof tops burst into flames. Some 40 of them ran for the protection of the large brick company owned boarding house and all perished there. Others ran for the river as fire rained down around and upon them, setting hair and clothing ablaze. The very air itself seemed to be on fire and had turned toxic, smothering many who dropped in the streets.

    The ones that made it to the river found themselves with new terrors as they met with the frigid water, floating logs from the mill which had been ignited by the fire, and panicked livestock which trampled many river refugees. It’s a wonder that anyone survived at all. Three hundred people wedged themselves in between the rolling booms where they roasted in the intense heat that hovered above them. Others, being knocked aside by cows, lost their hold on friendly logs and were swept under the water, drowning in the midst of a fire storm.

    Today the Peshtigo fire is still the greatest forest fire disaster in American history .

    [my point:] Interesting point about the cows. Apparently they had just been sitting around chewing the cod as the fire progressed, but all of sudden, en masse, they all just came barrelling down into the river in a great stampede. Must have been something to behold.

    • Jason Calley says:

      Hey Eric, yes, horrifying fire in Pestigo — and don’t forget, there was another fire at the same time across the lake in Michigan (and of course in Chicago as well.) I realize that the weather before the fires was perfect for spawning big fires, but still, three of the largest fires in US history happening all on the same day is stretching credulity. Couple that with the numerous eye witness reports that there were literally balls of fire falling from the sky, and the mystery deepens. Some of the reports afterwards describe phenomena that seem reminiscent of perhaps electrical arc heating , not just simple chemical combustion. A buddy of mine claims that there were some major sunspot clusters sighted a day or two before, but I have not verified that for myself. Something very odd happened that day, something more than a series of forest fires. I do not claim to know what the cause was, but it certainly bears more investigation.

  3. bwanamakubwa says:

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    Hamlet. Act 1, Scene 5.
    William Shakespeare

  4. Raindog says:

    One of the things we have now though is better Fireman… IE: ones that don’t stop fighting fires to fight the competing department. Also, take Seattle for instance, the whole city burned to the ground at one point, something that would never happen now.

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