[meteorite-list] Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of1871?
From: Sterling K. Webb <kelly_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue Aug 24 13:24:59 2004
The phrase "all the fires" comes from the newspaper, not me. My comments
address only the Peshtigo fire, those small towns near Peshtigo, and the
Of course, there is a natural background rate of forest and grass fires
after a long dry summer, and some of the October 8th fires had been burning
earlier and there were fires afterward, too.
But, I'll stand by the word "simultaneous." The Wisconsin fires (nine
towns over four counties, including Peshtigo) all started at the same time
as nearly as can be determined. The time of the Peshtigo fire (9:30 pm) and
the start of the Great Chicago Fire (9:25 pm) are for all practical
historical purposes simultaneous, even though they are separated by hundreds
of miles. Quite a coincidence!
Hey, if you like coincidences, try this one. The Wisconsin fires are all
oriented on a linear track running north and south and pointing at the
radiant point of the Draconid shower. Well, OK, within 10 degrees. Still,
it's a pretty good coincidence.
The Michigan fires were regarded as complicating the picture (because
there were so many small fires already burning) as early as 1872. See
"History of the Great Conflagration," by Sheahan and Upson, Chicago, 1872.
However, it is difficult to explain the outbreak of intense and major new
fires all over the state of Michigan, all starting at 9:30 to 10:00 pm, if
each was the independent result of the random flare-up of an existing fire,
and the absence of any new fires after October 8th.
There were also fires in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, both Dakotas, and in
Manitoba and Alberta, Canada. I hold no brief for them (or the Michigan
fires). Some, none, or all may have been triggered by air-bursts. I have not
been able to uncover any definitive signs of firestorms (very high
temperatures, de-oxygenated zones, etc.) in any account of the fires other
in than Chicago and Wisconsin. That could be accounted for by the absence of
concentrated fuel stocks or by the absence of thermal air-bursts or by their
being natural fires, take your pick.
It's mostly a case of attitude. If you accept the likelihood of an
airburst causing the Chicago and Peshtigo fires, then the other fires are
suspicious but indeterminate. If you go with the one-cow theory, well, fires
are fires and they start all the time, so what? Both are reasonable but
depend on where your starting point lies.
Paul H wrote:
> In Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of
> Sterling K. Webb wrote:
> "These strange fires were not restricted
> to the IL-WI-MI triangle centered around
> the southern end of Lake Michigan. Because
> of the slowness of communication in 1871,
> it was not immediately recognized that the
> fires of October 8, 1871 were scattered
> over parts of seven states and Canada and
> may have caused as many as 10,000 deaths."
> I would be interested to know where the claim that the
> fire actually started in seven states and Canada
> simultaneously. From what I seen written in well-
> researched books on the 1871 fire, i.e. "Michigan On
> Fire" by Betty Sodders in 1997, the fact of the matter
> is that fires outside IL-WI-MI area were occurring and
> started well before October 8 and had been occurring
> all Fall because of the hot and dry weather that had
> created a drought that was devastating in its own
> If a person looks at the historical record, he or she
> would find that it is an absolute misrepresentation of
> it in stating that these fires all started
> with the October 8 fire. The so-called "instantaneous"
> "simultaneous" nature of the fire, from what I have
> seen, is pure fiction created by shoddy research and
> wishful thinking on the part of advocates of the comet
> impact theory, who seem to be rather ill-informed of
> the actual chronology of forest fires in 1871.
> For example, a person can read "The Fire that
> Holland, Michigan" at:
> In terms of the so-called "simultaneous" nature of the
> 1871 fire, the web page noted:
> "There had already been a threat of danger
> earlier in the week. Fires kept smoldering
> and burned barns and houses, but the danger
> seemed to be far from the city. Then on
> Sunday, October 9, there were reports that
> a threatening forest fire was coming."
> "The community at the time was populated with
> 2400 residents and for many days previous,
> these residents had battled and beaten many
> small fires that had erupted throughout the
> It is quite clear that fires were starting within the
> area of the 1871 fire days, even weeks, before October
> The fire of 1871 simply didn't magically appear on
> 8, 1871 out of nowhere but was preceded by numerous
> smaller fires days, even weeks, before it occurred.
> Even more interesting comments about the 1871 fire
> can be found in "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan
> Wildland Fire In Michigan". at:
> This web page stated:
> "It was not a single fire but a combination
> of hundreds of fires, small and large, that
> had been burning unattended for weeks, only
> to flare up and unite when conditions became
> This statement totally demolishes the case for a
> meteorite or comet, as the 1871 didn't start on Oct.
> 1871. Rather the "1871 fire" on October 8 occurred
> it exploded into a firestorm when fires only after
> for days, even weeks, before that date. Oct 8 was
> the point that these fires, as they coalesced,
> the critical mass needed to explode into massive
> The historical record also clearly demonstrates the
> source of these fires. For example, the "History &
> Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan"
> web page stated:
> "Set carelessly or by settlers in clearing
> land, fires burned everywhere, and ran
> uncontrolled into the woods and swamps
> where they continued to smolder."
> Also, the "The Fire that Destroyed Holland, Michigan"
> web page stated:
> "In the fall of 1871, the ground was very
> dry after the long summer. The summer had
> been very hot and dry and some areas hadn't
> had rain since June. In Holland, fires
> began in the piles of sawdust, waste wood,
> and finished lumber in the yards of the
> city's several sawmills, and the winds
> quickly spread the flames throughout the
> town. The small spark ignited the piles
> of wood and spread to become one of
> Michigan's most widespread forest fire."
> These quotes point out the fact that that Michigan was
> having problems with outbreaks of smaller fires, weeks
> before October 8. The fire simply didn't magically,
> simultaneously start on that date, but rather
> small fires, which had been burning for weeks before
> October 8, came together on that date. The fact that
> smaller fires were burning many days prior to October
> refutes the claim that everything simultaneously burst
> into flame on that date and the so-called anomalous
> nature of the fire. It is quite obvious that long
> October 8, this region was having major problems with
> outbreaks of multiple, ongoing fires.
> The "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland
> Fire In Michigan" stated:
> "Michigan was extensively logged toward the
> end of the 19th century. The White Pine that
> had once covered Michigan was cut, followed
> by the hardwood forests, and large expanses
> of slash (the branches and other debris left
> after logging) were left behind. Many areas
> were cleared for farming, and the vegetation
> was burned to dispose of it. Several catastrophic
> fires resulted from the indiscriminate burning
> of slash following logging and land clearing
> for agriculture."
> "In the summer of 1871, a drought occurred over
> much of the Great Lakes region. Slash and debris
> from logging and land clearing became tinder-dry
> during the months without rain. From early
> August no rain fell, pastures and gardens dried
> up, wells went dry, streams shrank to a mere
> trickle, and crops failed."
> These conditions, i.e. the abundance of fuel, created
> careless logging techniques and forest land
> the hot and dry weather and massive drought; and the
> careless use of fire to clear land made for an ideal
> situation for the development of a catastrophic fire.
> In fact, a fire similar in magnitude to the 1871 fire
> occurred tens years later in September of 1881 in the
> Thumb area of Michigan. It was more serve, caused more
> damage, and made more people to be homeless than the
> 1871 fire.
> About the 1881 fire, the "History & Ecology of Fire in
> Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan" stated:
> "Like the 1871 fire, the fire of 1881 came
> at the end of an extremely severe drought
> and was the result of hundreds of land-clearing
> fires whipped into a seething cauldron of flame
> by high winds."
> This discussion reminds me of a "mysterious" sinking
> of the Sandra that allegedly sank in a calm sea
> any distress signal as described by Charles Berlitz in
> his book "The Bermuda Triangle". When Larry Kusche
> looked into this disappearance, he found that the ship
> was half as long as the book stated and it disappeared
> in the middle of a hurricane. In this case, as in the
> 1871 fires, the mystery disappears when the
> misinformation and folklore is replaced by documented
> Baton Rouge, LA
Received on Tue 24 Aug 2004 01:23:57 PM PDT