Why You Don't Know About The Deadliest Fire In U.S. History

By | June 15, 2022

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People seeking refuge in the Peshtigo River, 1871. (G. J. Tisdale/Wikimedia Commons)

The deadliest wildfire in U.S. history claimed approximately 2,500 lives and destroyed more than 1.2 million acres of a Wisconsin logging town, but you've probably never heard of it. The Peshtigo Fire of 1871 tends to be overlooked in the history books, mostly because it happened on the same day as a much more famous fire—likely no coincidence.

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Two pieces of lumber that survived the fire. (Royalbroil/Wikimedia Commons)

The Peshtigo Fire

On the evening of October 8, 1871, residents of Peshtigo, Wisconsin heard a low rumble that sounded like a train, stepped outside to investigate, and found a raging wildfire ripping through the surrounding forests and rushing toward town. The winds, which were so strong that many survivors reported fire tornados, swept the fire from building to building so fast that many residents never had a chance to escape. Others were caught in the flames as they tried to make their way to the river, which offered little refuge, as the wooden bridges caught fire, too. The wind spread the burning embers until both sides of the river were ablaze.