Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Peshtigo - Why Did it Happen?

Click on map to be taken to Rootsweb's Peshtigo Fire page
Who knows?  There are lots of guesses, but it's hard to determine which is correct. Some believe that it was the work of a comet.  Others due to fires intentionally set to clear the area as a fire prevention measure.  Still others believe that there was one fire and that it jumped the bay.  So who is right?

Well, I've got no scientific proof, but I really don't think it takes much to figure out at least part of it.  No one debates the fact that there was an extreme drought that took place that year in Wisconsin and parts of Michigan.  Naturally, with dry conditions there are bound to be fires.  Some were man-made (as a part of manufacturing, clearing large areas to ready for farming/building, to prevent fires, etc).  Some may have been nature-made (lightning).  Sorry, I'm not a big comet-theory believer.  Show me the rock, baby! That one just seems like there has to be someone trying to become a member of the Who's-Got-The-Oddest-Theory-Club.

The bottom line (to me) is that there had been fires.  The inhabitants of the various towns and of the country-side had been fighting them for awhile.  If you've ever been camping you get absolutely nagged to make sure your campfire is completely out.  What if it's not?  Fire.

Moving on a bit.  A strong frontal system moved through the area the evening of October 8th.  What usually occurs when a weather front comes through?  Wind.  In this case the winds were described as almost hurricane force and many survivors described being thrown to the ground several times by the wind.  Think about that one.  How strong does the wind have to be to throw an adult to the ground?

So we've got small piles of smoldering ash/pine needles/leaves that people previously fought to put out and a giant wind comes along.  What happens when you blow on something like that...Fire.  Oxygen feeds the fire.  It starts it up again, but it needs more.  It needs something to consume.  To burn.  Wisconsin was (and frankly still is) a heavily wooded area.  Dinnertime.

Aftermath of the Peshtigo Fire 1871
The frontal system just pushed that fire through.  The area was extremely dry to begin with so it didn't take much to ignite.  To spread...and it did.

I don't know why the whole attachment to thinking it all started in Peshtigo and jumped the Green Bay to hit the Door County Peninsula.  It kind of makes me laugh because the Bay is at least 5 miles across.  Jumping rivers?...Yes.  It jumped the Peshtigo River easily and tormented those taking refuge in the water.  Jumping a 5 mile wide bay?  Well, you'd have to prove the possibility of that to me because it's too funny.  Perhaps I'll be proven wrong one day.  Maybe I should call Myth Busters and see if they can figure it out. Until then, I still think it more likely that fires that had been burning were advanced quicker and those that had been incompletely extinguished had been revived.  The name the "Great Peshtigo Fire" is used because Peshtigo was the area hardest hit.

Any way you theorize it the combination of drought, fire and wind was deadly.  Luckily today, we have the means to monitor our weather and to evacuate people in danger.  We know the danger is coming.

I hope we never see another Peshtigo-type fire.  Living in Texas this year has caused me to think of Peshtigo often.  In my neck of the woods we hear about fires almost daily, and the wind in Killeen is no joke.  But we are better prepared today.

Now I have posted about many depressing and down-right scary things this week, but as promised, I will be ending on a positive note.  A miracle.  Until tomorrow...