October 8, 1871
Wildfires are burning in the area surrounding Peshtigo. The winds pick up. The city becomes engulfed in flames. The Great Peshtigo Fire begins, and it will become the deadliest in American history.
In mere hours, the town was destroyed. The surrounding area was largely trees, the buildings and sidewalks were primarily made of wood, and even the roads were paved with wood chips.
According to the Peshtigo Fire Museum’s website, the fire destroyed the telegraph lines, meaning the news of the fire did not get out immediately. When he learned of the fire, Wisconsin Governor Lucius Fairchild was already on his way to Chicago to aide survivors of that fire. After hearing of the news, his wife Francis stopped a train car loaded with food and supplies that was bound for Chicago and had it redirected to Peshtigo.
At least 1,200 people in the overall area died as a result of the fire. In Peshtigo, between 500 and 800 people were killed, almost half of the town’s population. Although it was more deadly, the Peshtigo Fire is sometimes called ‘The Forgotten Fire’ because it happened on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire.
On this anniversary, the city of Peshtigo held “A Time to Remember” to honor those who lost their lives in the fire.