The Deadliest Fire In American History – it’s not Chicago…!!!

Most of us are familiar with Mrs. O’Leary “the cow kicked over the lantern story,” especially if you lived in Chicago on the fateful night of Sunday, October 8, 1871. This tragedy took two days to burn out, ultimately leaving 100,000 of the city’s 300,000 people homeless, and killing 120 to 300, but did you know that on that same night, 250 miles away north of Chicago in Peshtigo Wis., another fire would take the lives of between 1500 to 2500 people, the largest loss of human life by fire in American history.

It is still unknown today what started the fire although there is much speculation, but what is known is that the fire burned approximately 1,200,000 acres. History tells us that a cold west wind fanned the flames and escalated them, causing a firestorm. It has been estimated that winds advanced at 110 miles per hour with superheated flames reaching at least 2,000 degrees fahrenheit – nature’s nuclear explosion! Can this happen today in modern America? We watched in horror as Paradise CA. became a wasteland of ash, taking 85 precious lives. Today, because of overgrown forests, climate change, sluggish government action, and environmental extremes, are we facing the same risks that 1749 residents of Peshtigo faced? Of those residents 1,182 perished.

With abundant knowledge within our forestry departments, scientific communities, conservation groups, and common sense people, let’s believe that together right choices will be made. Let’s believe that together, we will adjust the current cumbersome red tape of bureaucracy and eco extremism. Let’s believe that doing the right thing will still the fear of voicing the truth due to potential loss of that sought after job promotion, or because denial at times is easier to face than truth so that Peshtigo never happens in our town. As editor of Scorched, I have faith that common sense and wisdom will prevail amongst the powers that be, thus not allowing nature to again produce another nuclear explosion, changing the already tragic statistics of history.

We are all familiar with the phrase, “history repeats
itself” – let it never be on our watch.