Remembering the 1871 Peshtigo Fire – the Worst Fire in North America


On the evening of October 8, 1871 the worst recorded forest fire in North American history raged through Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, destroying millions of dollars worth of property and timberland, taking between 1,200 and 2,400 lives, and burning over one million acres of forest land.

Madison music artist, recorder, performer and environmental advocate Ken Longquist and his band were guests in the studio yesterday on WORT-FM radio’s “8:00 O’Clock Buzz”, hosted by Madison’s Tony Castañeda. Their visit to the radio station was made in recognition of the 144th year anniversary of the historic Peshtigo fire, which took so many human lives and undoubtedly countless wild animals as well. According to Longquist’s research of this historical event in Wisconsin’s history, the fire followed a period of prolonged and widespread drought and high temperatures combined with human carelessness. In those days, developers often set small fires as a way to clear forest stumps and land for farming and railroad construction. On the day of the Peshtigo fire, the fires that were set got out of control and the strong, cyclic winds escalated the fire to massive proportions. By the time the fire was over, 3 days later, more than 1,875 square miles or 1.2 million acres of forest land had burned to the ground. Twelve communities in the area were completely destroyed.

An accurate death toll has never been determined for the tragedy as local records were destroyed in the fire and no one had anticipated what was about to take place.  Much like today’s global warming-aided extreme weather, worldwide, linked to a 50 percent increase in the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere and rising concentrations of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, primarily from humans carelessly and knowingly burning huge quantities of fossil fuels; there have also been huge, deadly and costly catastrophic fires occurring in the western U.S. states the last few years. The Peshtigo fire was similarly caused by careless human activity – actions that were clearly dangerous to the people, animals and all the other things around them – much like humans burning fossil fuels, despite their seeing signs that earth’s climate has already changed around them and created considerable havoc, loss of life and property.

Listen to Ken and his band perform their new song “Peshtigo” live on radio (or via computer) on the 147th anniversary of the fire yesterday morning, October 8, 2015, at WORTFM Community Radio, Madison.

About Mike Neuman

Identical twin; Long-time advocate of protection of our environment; Married; Father to three sons; Grandfather to one granddaughter; Born and raised in Wisconsin; Graduate of University of Wisconsin; post graduate degrees in agricultural economics and Water Resources Management fro UWMadison; Former School Crossing Guard for City of Madison; Bike to Work for 31 years with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Retired from DNR in 2007; Biked to school crossing guard site 2 X daily for 7 years retiring in 2019; in addition to being an advocate of safeguarding our environment, I am also an advocate for humane treatment of animal, children, and people in need of financial resource for humane living. I am presently a Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Madison, Wisconsin. I oppose all long (>500 miles) distance travel (via fossil fuel burning) for nonessential purposes and all ownership of more than one home. I am opposed to militarism in any form particularly for the purpose of monetary gain. I am a Strong believer in people everywhere having the right to speak their minds openly, without any fear of reprisal, regarding any concerns; especially against those in authority who are not acting for the public good?in a timely fashion and in all countries of the world not just the U S.. My identical twin, Pat, died in June 2009. He was fired from his job with the National Weather Service despite having a long and successful career as a flood forecaster with the Kansas City National Weather Service. He took a new position in the Midwest Regional Office in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, Pat’s work for the NWS went sour after he began to see the evidence for concern about rising global temperatures shortly after relocating to Minneapolis, and how they appeared to effect of flooding on the Red River that flows out of Canada before entering the U.S. in North Dakota. . Pat and I conversed on a regular basis with other scientists on the Yahoo Group named “Climate Concern “ and by personal email. The NWS denied his recommendation to give his public presentation o n his research at the “Minneapolis Mall of America” in February 2000, which deeply affected h,im. I will h He strongly believed the information ought be shared with the public to which I concurred. That was the beginning of the vendetta against my brother, Patrick J. Neuman, for speaking strongly of the obligations the federal government was responsible for accurately informing the citizenry. A way great similar response to my raising the issue of too many greenhouse gases being emitted by drivers of vehicles on Wisconsin highway system, my immediate supervisors directed: “that neither global warming, climate change nor the long term impacts upon the natural resources of Wisconsin from expansion of the state highway system were to be any part of my job requirements, and that I must not communicate, nor in a memorandum to all the bureau, shall any person who works in the same bureau I do communicate with me, neither verbally on the phone, by email.

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