Peshtigo, WI "The Great Peshtigo Fire," Oct 1871

Referred to as the Great Fire, the Peshtigo Fire swept through Peshtigo, WI and on to 2400 square miles or 1.5 million acres in Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.


The Peshtigo Fire was a forest fire that took place on October 8, 1871 in and around Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It was a firestorm that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, with estimated deaths of around 1,500 people, possibly as many as 2,500.  Occurring on the same day as the more famous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire has been largely forgotten. On the same day as the Peshtigo and Chicago fires, the cities of Holland and Manistee, Michigan, across Lake Michigan, also burned and the same fate befell Port Huron at the southern end of Lake Huron as well.

The setting of small fires was a common way to clear forest land for farming and railroad construction. On the day of the Peshtigo Fire, a cold front moved in from the west, bringing strong winds that fanned the fires out of control and escalated them to massive proportions. A firestorm ensued. Twelve communities were destroyed. An accurate death toll has never been determined because local records were destroyed in the fire. Between 1,200 and 2,500 people are thought to have lost their lives.

The fire jumped across the Peshtigo River and burned on both sides of the inlet town.  Survivors reported that the firestorm generated a fire whirl (described as a tornado) that threw rail cars and houses into the air. Many escaped the flames by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River, wells, or other nearby bodies of water. Some drowned while others succumbed to hypothermia in the frigid river.

At the same time, another fire burned parts of the Door Peninsula; because of the coincidence, some incorrectly assumed that the fire had jumped across the waters of Green Bay. - wikipedia.org.

Read articles about the Great Fire (below):