USA — Wildfires that destroy millions of acres of forest and land are rare today in Michigan because the state is cut up by roads and developments. But in the 1800s, as settlers arrived in droves, logged the timber and cleared the land for farms, massive wildfires were a deadly terror. Two of the worst happened just 10 years apart:
The Great Michigan Fire: Hundreds of forest and brush fires ignited by lightning or other causes began burning simultaneously in early October 1871. The fires were whipped into an inferno by gale force winds and devastated 40 square miles between Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. The same winds fanned the Great Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin. It jumped the Menominee River and burned more land in the Upper Peninsula. State officials estimate that about 200 people died in Michigan, more than 2 million acres were burned and several hundred families were left homeless.
The Great Thumb Fire: A decade later, this blaze broke out in early September 1881 in a heavily logged area of the Thumb that had suffered through several months of drought. The flames burned more than a million acres in Sanilac, Lapeer, Tuscola and Huron counties, killed 282 people and caused an estimated $2.3 million in damage (more than $53 million in 2012 dollars). It was the first disaster to which Clara Barton’s newly formed American Red Cross responded.