The right conditions have ignited wildfires in the midwest that took a terrible human and environmental toll. Large wildfires are a part of America’s history, its present and its future. The same time the great Chicago October 8, 1871 fire took a terrible toll and was the center of the attention of the press and American public, a far more devastating wildfire was raging in a place called Peshtigo, Wisconsin. This fire according to historic records consumed 1,875 square miles, for a point of reference this is an area about twice the size of the state of Rhode Island. Twelve communities were destroyed and the loss of life has never been accurately tallied. It is estimated that between 1,200 and 2,500 people perished in this fire that was so hot in areas sand melted into glass.
On October 8, 1871 another fire in Michigan called the Great Michigan Fire destroyed the communities of White Rock and Port Huron and part of the area known as the ‘thumb region” in Michigan. Some of the contributing factors to these large fires were uninterrupted drought in the Midwest and strong dry winds in the month of October. Four days later Windsor, Ontario Canada suffered from a similar wildfire event.
Ten years later in 1881, The Great Thumb fire again devastated the thumb area in Michigan killing 282 people and burnt over one million acres. The fire also destroyed over 2,000 structures and left 14,000 people in need of assistance.
On September 1, 1894 The Great Hinckley Fire in Minnesota, destroyed 200,000 acres and saw a loss of human life estimated to be around 418 people. This fire was due in part to logging practices, a two month drought, high temperatures and a thermal inversion that trapped gasses from the fire close to the ground. In the yards of the Eastern Minnesota Railroad steel wheels of train cars fused to the rails like they had been welded together.
Other Historic fires of note include the Baudette Fire of 1910 in Baudette, Minnesota, The Great Fire of 1910 in Washington, Idaho and Montana, and the 1918 Cloquette Fire in Carleton County, Minnesota. Many of these fires were caused by similar weather conditions such as drought and high winds.
The first Picture of the Peshtigo fire in Wisconsin is found on the US National Parks website. the second picture of the Hinkley Fire is found on the Wickapedia website.
What we can learn from these fires and fires from our more recent past is that we can make changes to our homes and the landscape surrounding our homes using firewise principals in order to protect our investments, communities, forests and those we care about.