The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 -- Site Index


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Frequently Asked Questions

The volume of mail I receive seriously limits my ability to reply to individual questions in a timely manner. Please look for answers to your questions here before contacting me directly. Thanks!

One of my ancestors was believed to have been in Peshtigo at the time of the fire. Can you help me find about more about her/him?

I cannot fulfill research requests. I have done my best to list available resources on this site to help you solve your own family mysteries. I will continue to compile as much information as possible in the hope that this site will continually grow and become even more useful, but this is just a hobby for me and I can't guarantee anything. Sorry!

When did the Peshtigo Fire happen?

The Peshtigo Fire started on the evening of October 8, 1871 -- the same time as the Great Chicago Fire.

What caused the fire?

Many months of extreme drought combined with the land-clearing practices of the time ("slash and burn") caused many small fires to be whipped into a huge forest fire when a cyclonic storm blew up on the night of October 8, 1871. Click here for a weather map.

How many people were killed in the fire, and how does this compare to the Chicago Fire?

Between 1,200 and 2,400 people died in the Peshtigo Fire. The death toll in Chicago was about 250.

How come different sources list different numbers of fire victims?

It is very difficult to determine exactly how many people died, since the fire covered such a large area, and the population was fluctuating constantly due to frontier settlement. No one knows how many native peoples, itinerant lumberjacks, immigrant homesteaders, etc. may have moved into the area since the previous census in June 1870.

How widespread was the fire?

The "Peshtigo Fire" covered about 2,400 square miles (1.5 million acres).

The fire burned such a large area -- why is it called the "Peshtigo Fire"?

Though other villages and farm settlements were affected by the fire, the greatest loss of life and property occurred in the village of Peshtigo. About 800 people died there, nearly half of the official population from the 1870 census.

Why does the Chicago Fire get so much more attention than the Peshtigo fire?

Chicago was a much larger city with better communication and access to the rest of the world. Peshtigo was a rough frontier town in the woods with a single telegraph line (which was destroyed by the fire).

Why couldn't the people stop the fire before the whole town burned? Wasn't there a fire department?

The Peshtigo Company had a single, horse drawn steam pumper for fighting fires in the sawmill, but there was virtually no other technology available for fighting structure fires, much less a forest fire of such great magnitude. The people were essentially trapped in the town, surrounded by by wooden buildings and sidewalks, sawdust-strewn streets and a burning forest.

How was the fire put out?

The fire continued to burn until it reached the waters of Green Bay, the storm winds died down, and the rain came.


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Cite as: Deana C. Hipke. The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. <>
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