As wild fires rage through California, Wisconsinites are lucky nothing like that could ever happen here…
Actually, it could. …And it did. One-hundred-36 years ago this very month thousands of northeastern Wisconsin residents were horrified by what some have called the worst fire in American history … or at least the most fatal. ( image )
"Certainly as far as people being killed I do believe it is the worst. The estimates run from about 1,100 up to 1,500 people. A lot of them were never identified.
Gerry Strey, an archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society explains, the rapidly moving flames in and around Peshtigo left many people surrounded with no way to escape. Several people tried to stay alive in rivers and lakes — even spending the night in the water. An accurate death toll has never been determined since local population records were destroyed in the fire. Strey says despite the deaths and the destruction of more than a million acres of land, the Peshtigo fire is sometimes called the "forgotten fire."
"It's pretty much been obscured by the Great Chicago Fire. A very strange coincidence that they should happen on the same day."
Wisconsin Governor Lucius Fairchild (1866-1872) was actually helping our neighbors in Chicago, unaware of the fire in his own state. Even though arson is suspected in at least one of the current California fires, Strey says there are some similarities with the Peshtigo fire.
"Yeah, certainly the dryness, the weather conditions, the fuel supply, the high winds, you know, were all very similar."
Because of modern day communication and rapid evacuation of close to a half a million California residents, only eight people were killed compared to the approximate 15-hundred in the Peshtigo fire.