Peshtigo Wisconsin Fire

On the same day as the Great Chicago Fire, a forest fire driven by strong winds totally consumed Peshtigo along with a dozen other villages, killing 1,200 to 2,500 people and charring approximately 1.5 million acres (6,000 km²). This fire, known as the Peshtigo Fire, is the deadliest in American history. Unidentifiable remains of hundreds of residents were buried in a mass grave at the Peshtigo Fire Cemetery. The Peshtigo Fire Museum features several items that survived the fire, plus other artifacts from the area's history.

"The woods and heavens were all on fire," the smoke blocked the sun, and the rising moon turned red. For witnesses of the worst fire in American history, it was a sure sign of the apocalypse. On October 8, 1871, a fire with hurricane force winds consumed more than 1,000,000 acres of farms, forests, sawmills, and small towns of Wisconsin and upper Michigan. In its path of destruction an estimated 1,500 people lost their lives. The Peshtigo fire, as it was dubbed, represents the greatest tragedy of its kind in North America. The conflagration occurred the same day as the great Chicago fire and has relegated to a lesser place in annals of north America disasters. Yet, the natural forces unleashed that day would for evermore be known as a "firestorm."

Impact Theory

In certain circles, much has been made of the theory that such large and widespread fires couldn't have happened without assistance from an external astronomical force -- namely, a comet or meteor impact with the earth in the Great Lakes area. (Commonly referred to as an "impact event.")

I am not an astronomer, but what I have seen concerning this theory has not been very well researched or documented. At least one proponent of this theory takes an "X-Files" approach, citing "unexplained" phenomena and using selected facts to draw conclusions that, while intriguing, are based more on fanciful thinking than on science. The gullible are led to believe that the mainstream scientific community is too lazy to pursue the "real" cause of the fires or that some kind of conspiracy is afoot to hide the facts from us. While common sense points to a combination of natural and human influences that culminated in such widespread burning, it is apparently much more exciting for some (especially amateur astronomers) to imagine a comet as the cause.

I understand that comet debris and meteorites can (and do) strike the earth, and that a large impact would be devastating. But in the end, when all the evidence is considered, the argument for such an event as the cause of the 1871 fires becomes very weak -- ridiculous, even.