Great Chicago Fire – Maybe Not

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On Sunday, October 8, 1871 various fires happened throughout the Midwest claiming thousands of lives and destroyed millions of acres across Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. The most famous fire struck Chicago and claimed about 250 lives while destroying over three square miles of the city, including more than 17,000 buildings.

The deadliest fire in United States history began on October 8th in 1871 in Peshtigo, WI. The Great Peshtigo Fire is often overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire which began on the same date. 

The Great Peshitgo Fire was by far the most tragic. It is estimated that between 1,200 and 2,400 people were killed during the fire and millions of dollars of property and timberland were destroyed. Over 1.5 million acres (2,400 square miles) of the forest was destroyed. The death toll in Chicago was approximately 250.

The Peshtigo Fire Company had a single, horse-drawn steam pumper for fighting fires in the sawmills, but there was virtually no other technology available for fighting structure fires, much less a forest fire of such great magnitude. The people were essentially trapped in the town, surrounded by wooden buildings and sidewalks, sawdust-strewn streets and a burning forest. The fire continued to burn until it reached the waters of Green Bay, the storm winds died down, and the rain came.

In Michigan on Sunday October 8, 1871 (one of a series of fires known collectively as the Great Fire of 1871 or the Great Michigan Fire) fires burned a number of cities including White Rock and Port Huron, and much of the countryside in the “Thumb” region of the U.S. state of Michigan (a total of 1.2 million acres).

The Great Chicago Fire changed the way the fire service approached prevention activities. It also set new standards in fire equipment and locations of fire districts.

There are reports that these fires were caused by massive lightning strikes that occurred over the upper midwest. Poor Mrs. O’Leary’s cow still got the blame. Utterly ridiculous and the cow could not have been in three states at the same time.

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