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Highlights Archives

'The Great Peshtigo Fire' for Young Readers


A mural depicting residents fleeing the Great Peshtigo Fire by taking refuge in the Peshtigo River (courtesy of the Peshtigo Fire Museum)

The Great Peshtigo Fire swept through northeastern Wisconsin on October 8, 1871, killing as many as 2,500 people and laying waste to thousands of acres of land. A new book by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press details this infamous 1871 firestorm, which occurred the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. Written for young readers, ages 7-12, 'The Great Peshtigo Fire: Stories and Science from America's Deadliest Firestorm' by Scott Knickelbine describes the devastation of the fire, explains the science behind what caused it, and demonstrates how the tragedy fueled new fire prevention and safety education techniques.

The cover of "The Great Peshtigo Fire: Stories and Science from America's Deadliest Firestorm" by Scott Knickelbine
"The Great Peshtigo Fire" is written to enrich a reader's understanding of the infamous firestorm, including the building and land-use practices that made the area ripe for such a fire and the weather patterns that fostered widespread fires throughout the upper Midwest in 1871.

First-Person Accounts of Fire Survivors

The book also shares first-person accounts from the few survivors of the fire who lived long enough to record their memories for the Wisconsin Historical Society in the 1950s. Those stories are part of the Society's collections. A portion of one such story, shared by survivor Amelia Desrochers, was released in a special video about the fire and the book this fall. Listen as she talks of escaping the storm in the river as a child and then finding her father blinded by the fire.

The Great Peshtigo Fire Recalled for Adult Readers

"The Great Peshtigo Fire" is the second book on the fire published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press in recent years. 'The Great Peshtigo Fire: An Eyewitness Account, Second Edition' was written for an adult audience by the Reverend Peter Pernin, the parish priest from Peshtigo who watched his church burn to the ground. His account of the fire, and the survivor stories he shares, was first published in 1874 and then lost for generations until it was reproduced by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press in the 1970s. It was reprinted again by the Society in 1999, with a foreword by University of Arizona professor Stephen J. Pyne, then one of the foremost experts on the Peshtigo Fire.

About the Author

Scott Knickelbine, author of "The Great Peshtigo Fire: Stories and Science from America's Deadliest Firestorm," has written more than 30 nonfiction books for young people, including the series "America at War" and "Environmental Disasters."

:: Posted November 19, 2012

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