The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 -- Was it a comet?
Analysis, p.4


Main Directory:

The Cause
The Victims
Picture Gallery
Peshtigo Today

Analysis of the Impact Theory
(continued from previous page)

Waskin's book ultimately falls short because it fails to address even the basic questions relative to his theory. How could a comet streaking across the sky above Chicago go unnoticed by the city's 334,000 inhabitants? If this comet did strike Chicago, why didn't anyone report seeing it flash overhead or hearing an explosion when it struck the earth? The post-fire newspapers are silent as to any such extra-terrestrial visitor -- until December 13, when the Republican reported that "a very brilliant meteor was seen at about 10:45 o'clock last night." For these reasons, more than anything else, Mel Waskin's comet is, to use his own words, merely "icy slush"; it sheds not one candlepower of light on the cause of the Great Chicago Fire.

So what did cause the Peshtigo Fire? The northeastern part of Wisconsin had been dotted with dozens of fires since September. By the first week of October, the situation had become a crisis, with even the Chicago newspapers running lengthy articles featuring headlines such as "Wisconsin Ablaze." Most of these fires had been set by farmers for the purpose of clearing land, but other fires had been started by hunters, lumberjacks, railroad workers, and locomotives. In his book Fire at Peshtigo, Robert W. Wells theorizes that on the night of October 8, winds fanned these small blazes into bigger ones. Heat radiation from these separate fires may have ignited nearby underbrush, logging debris, and other combustible material, creating even larger fires as the individual blazes merged together. Wells suggests that above the heavier, smoke-laden air of northeastern Wisconsin was a layer of colder air. This cold air mass initially suppressed the convection whirls that these original smaller fires generated, causing them to burn sluggishly. When the swirling, overheated air of the combined convection whirls finally broke through the blanket of cooler air above it, it was as if a giant furnace damper had been opened. The hot air rushed skyward and the colder air swept in from all sides towards the column of rising air. This updraft created a firestorm that ravaged approximately one thousand square miles. It incinerated the village of Peshtigo and other settlements and farms in both Wisconsin and Michigan.

~Richard Bales

In This Section:
^ Up
Analysis, p. 1
Analysis, p. 2
Analysis, p.3
Analysis, p.4




Cite as: Deana C. Hipke. The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. <>
Copyright Notice | Acknowledgements | About This Site