You’ve probably grown up hearing the story of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow that kicked the lamp and
started the Chicago fire (which probably isn’t really true), but did you know that Chicago was just a campfire compared to the REAL fire about a hundred and fifty miles north, centered in a town called “Peshtigo”?
That’s right. The massive destruction in Chicago, which included:
- Burned nearly 10,000 buildings
- Consumed nearly over 500 miles of WOODEN sidewalks! (That’s why it spread so fast!)
- Killed almost 300 people
was relatively small compared to the massive fire that destroyed many small towns near the Wisconsin/Michigan border.
And yes… it occurred on the same day!
Over 2,000 square MILES of forest, land and fields were destroyed in just a few days. The Peshtigo Fire, as it is called, left between 1,200 and 2,400 people dead in its wake.
What was the cause of the Peshtigo Fire?
There is some debate over this, but it seems the rainfall had been quite sparse since July (only two inches in these areas) and with all the clearcutting and lumber harvesting going on, it left the entire area absolutely ripe for a spark. There had been several small fires that broke out in the preceding weeks, but on the night of November 8th, 1871, a strong windstorm blew in from the southwest, and carried the flames too far for local townsfolk to stop.
Some folks say it was a lightning spark. Others suggest a more “other worldly” origin…
Either way, the mystery of the Peshtigo Fire remains a source of discussion to this day, and a gentle reminder of how we need to “think twice, cut once“… especially when it comes to big forests.
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