The Peshtigo fire of 1871 was overshadowed by the Chicago fire that took place at the same time, but wasn’t the Peshtigo fire worse?
— Morton Gosslinger, Chicago
The Peshtigo, Wis., fire of Oct. 8, 1871, stands as the most deadly fire in American history. Deadly wildfires also occurred in Michigan at the same time, with Manistee, Port Huron and Holland experiencing many deaths, probably exceeding 500. The Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 8-10, 1871, claimed perhaps 300 lives, but the Peshtigo fire was worse by far.
In 1871, Peshtigo (220 miles north of Chicago) was a lumber town and home to one of the largest wood-product factories in the United States. The summer and fall of 1871 were very dry across the Midwest. The Peshtigo forest fire began Oct. 7 southwest of the town, hitting Peshtigo the evening of Oct. 8. In Peshtigo and surrounding areas, 1,500 to 2,400 people died.