31 August 2013


As I watch the pictures continue to come in from the devastating wildfire in Yosemite, and consider the plight of the brave souls trying to bring it under control, I’m reminded that Nature has always had its way.

1871 was a hellova fall for fires. The best known, the Great Chicago Fire, started on October 8th, burning for three days. Although the story of a cow kicking over a lamp in a barn turned out to be fiction, the wind the fire produced to feed itself was fact. Over 300 died and 100,000 were made homeless, yet this was nothing to what was going on elsewhere.

Wisconsin, like other states in the region, had been suffering an outbreak of wildfires due to the extended dry conditions. Near Peshtigo one took lethal hold to become a firestorm. Of the town’s 1,749 residents, more than 350 were later buried in a mass grave “primarily because so many had died that no one remained alive who could identify them”. Twelve communities were destroyed, leaving well over 1,200 people dead or missing.

Coincidence can be disconcerting. The same day the cities of Holland and Manistee in Michigan, and Port Huron, all fell to the same fate, adding another 200 deaths. Four days later Windsor, Ontario, joined the list.

Today we talk of $billion devastation. Considering our crowded communities, perhaps we should be grateful the figure is merely dollars and not death toll.

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