The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 -- Was it a comet?
Analysis, p. 1


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Richard Bales is from Aurora, Illinois. He has spent six years researching and writing The Cause of the Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O'Leary's Cow, to be published in the Fall of 2002 by McFarland Publishing Company. He has very generously agreed to share a portion of his work here.

Educational film director Mel Waskin contends in his book Mrs. O'Leary's Comet (1985) that a comet called Biela II caused not only the Chicago Fire but also huge conflagrations in Peshtigo, Wisconsin and Manistee, Michigan. Although Waskin gets an "A" for originality, his work fails to pass serious muster as a well-reasoned treatise explaining the fire's cause.

Waskin notes that fireman Michael W. Conway testified at the inquiry about seeing blue flames in basements. Conway also remarked that it appeared as if whiskey and alcohol were burning. Waskin suggests that cometary gases, which are heavier than air, settled in the basements and took fire. He adds that these gases are made up of methane and acetylene and that the components of these substances are similar to the chemicals that make up alcohol.

But Waskin fails to mention that the commissioners implied that the blue color might have been caused by the burning of natural gas. Although this is possible, modern fire science indicates that the blue color was probably caused by the burning of carbon monoxide produced in the basements because of poor ventilation.

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