Words on Weather & Climate — October 7, 2010

October 7, 2010 // 0 Comments

Peshtigo Horror by CRAIG JAMES Peshtigo is a small town in northeastern Wisconsin about 50 miles north of Green Bay. Most people have likely not heard of Peshtigo, but on the night of October 8, 1871, it was in the middle of the deadliest fire in United States history. Very little news of this horrible event spread across the nation because, at almost exactly the same time, the Great Chicago Fire was destroying much of that city, capturing most of the attention. Almost unbelievably, that same night saw fires destroy much of Holland, Manistee and Port Huron, Mich. as well as a good bit of forested area in the central part of our state. The exact cause of the Chicago fire is unknown, but the blaze started at about 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 8, in or around a small shed that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street. The traditional account of the origin of the fire is that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. Michael Ahern, the Chicago Republican reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy. Would news reporters just make up facts? But I digress. The fire encompassed almost 2,000 acres of the city. More than 73 miles of roads were destroyed, 120 miles of sidewalks, 2,000 lampposts, 17,500 buildings, and two to three million books. The death toll was between 200 and 300. The Chicago Water Tower is one of the few structures still standing that survived the fire. The Chicago fire was small compared to what happened in northeastern Wisconsin that same evening. The fire in this area consumed over 1.2 million acres of land, which is approximately twice the size of Rhode Island. At least 12 communities were completely destroyed with death toll numbers ranging between 1,200 and 2,500 people. The following account gives a vivid description of what happened in Peshtigo, Wis. that night beginning around 9 p.m. “A sound resembling a thousand stampeding cows or the ‘heavy discharge of artillery’ preceded the horrors that followed. The thick smoke made it difficult to see even a few feet ahead. […]