The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 -- Was it a comet?
Impact Theory


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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.

For further discussion, see the Analysis links to the right. Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy site is another good source of information. Two excellent books by reputable authors are also listed below.

DeHaan, John D. Kirk's Fire Investigation, 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1997. [Essential for debunking the "comet" and "spontaneous combustion of green hay" theories.]

Pyne, Stephen J. Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire, paperback ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997. [Pyne integrates the history of fire with ecology, agriculture, logging, and resource management. He includes a vivid description of the Peshtigo fire and the other Wisconsin fires of 1871.]

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




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