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The Biggest Fire In American History

July 16, 2021

If it’s summertime, that means you’re probably seeing Smokey Bear talk about fire safety. The west coast of California in particular is dealing with wildfires as dry conditions and winds continue to grow.

Did You Know?

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871
Public Domain

One of the largest fires in American history happened the exact same day as one of the most famous US fires burned in an entirely different place? The Peshtigo Fire started in Wisconsin on October 8th, 1871, and is known to be one of the largest fires in American History, with unknown origins. It impacted 1.3 million acres of land and is estimated to have killed around two thousand people. On the same night, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed just over two thousand acres, killed around three hundred people, and left more than one hundred thousand people homeless. The Great Chicago Fire led to a new public library system —the first free library open to everyone in Chicago—to help people access books after almost three million books were lost in the fire.

Why Talk About It Now?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A disastrous wildfire summer season in 2020 meant that firefighters and communities are now more wary than ever about drought conditions that can worsen wildfires. However, this year, the areas prone to wildfires are hoping to be better prepared. The goal? Create more “controlled burns” (or human-managed fires meant to clear land), reduce unpredictable wildfires, and reduce fire hazards.