National Fire Prevention Week Begins October 9th

Remembering The Great Peshtigo Fire, in addition to The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

Author: Tim Nowak

(2-minute read)


It was a matter of coincidence … two prominent fires that started on the same exact day in history, yet one gains the spotlight – despite being the significantly smaller of the two.

Maybe it’s the Wisconsinite in me, but the Peshtigo Fire of 1871 (October 8, 1871) is certainly worthy of recognition in American fire history as it resulted in the burning of over 1.2 million acres of land and the loss of over 1,100 lives.

What started as a brush-clearing fire rapidly intensified as windspeeds grew. The lush forest landscape of Northeast Wisconsin, combined with its rolling-hill topography led to the perfect equation for this fire to run wild. The fire was so intense that it expanded over a major water source, the Bay of Green Bay, to its eastern Door County peninsula.

Tying this into today’s fire service, we can’t ignore the seemingly annual “season” of wildfires that pop-up in our Western states and the impact it has created on the wildland-urban interface (WUI) firefighting industry. Water supply, property loss, insurance rates, staffing shortages, and stay-in-place (or evacuation) orders are all matters of discussion surrounding this “hot” topic and provide sufficient evidence that having a plan to combat these growing concerns is important.

Whether you call it your Community Risk Assessment or your Standards of Coverage, it’s important to identify what your community’s risks are so that you can adequately prepare for – or at least be cognizant of – those “what if” scenarios. Mutual aid, automatic aid, call-back staffing, and state/federal aid resources all depend upon these plans. Simply digging your head into the sand doesn’t count … it only fills your ears with dirt!

Catastrophic disaster planning can take shape in many different forms throughout the country. If we’ve learned one thing from these major disasters, it’s that the services we provide within the public safety industry are essential … and it’s our responsibility  to have a plan on how to react when these disasters occur.

Posted by Rachel Ray

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