forest fires in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Forest Fires in Wisconsin

forest fires in Wisconsin | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


Although 1871 was the state's worst year for forest fires, extensive fires also occurred in 1863, 1864, 1868, 1880, 1891, 1894, 1897, 1908, 1910, 1923, 1931 and 1933. Numerous small fires broke out in every autumn drought season, but by 1925 state fire protection forces were usually able to stop them before they grew into disasters. Some of the worst forest fires in the state's history are listed here by date; fires in cities and towns are separately listed under "fires in Wisconsin".


1871: Oct. 8-9 occurred the Peshtigo Fire, the state's worst natural disaster. See the separate entry on this event.


1894: July 26-30, disastrous forest fires visited Douglas, Hayfield,Ashland, Chippewa, Pierce,Taylor,Marathon, and Wood counties. Phillips, the county seat of Price, was almost entirely destroyed, and over twenty persons lost their lives.


1898: September 29, forest fires visited Barron and Polk counties, with $500,000 loss; many settlers were rendered homeless; relief was ad-ministered by the military department of the State.


1900: May 1-8, forest fires raged onChequamegonBayandMenomoneeRiver, the damage reaching over $1,000,000.


1904: May 4, in the vicinity of Tomahawk and Rhinelander; May 30, others were reported in the northern part of the state.


1906: May 18-19, whenStanley,ChippewaCounty, and Auburndale,WoodCounty, were partially destroyed;MarathonCountywas fire-swept, and Wausaukee,MarinetteCounty, hemmed in.


1907: May 11, Mosinee was partially burned, and the surrounding region much damaged until rain fell May 17. July 6, the town ofCornucopiawas surrounded by fire but saved by rains two days later. During the same month an area fifty miles long by forty wide was burned near Chippewa Falls, 300 persons were rendered homeless, and three lives were known to have been lost. July 20, several villages near Merrill were in great peril ¿ 400 people in one village were saved by a train rescue; the Northwestern railway established fire-fighting apparatus along its line.


1908: April 22, Mosinee was threatened with forest fires, which also spread along theshoreofLake Superior. In the autumn, fires broke out over a wide area: Bayfield sustained a loss of $200,000;Wausauwas saved only by the shifting of the wind; and September 20, Rhinelander received assistance fromMilwaukeefire department. By September 23, the danger was over. An estimated loss of between five and ten millions occurred in this state alone. October 17, fires began again, chiefly in the northernpeninsulaofMichigan; October 19, six square miles were burning east ofLakeNamekagon. Fire marshals and the Wisconsin State Forestry Department rendered efficient aid in preventing the spread of general conflagrations and extinguishing incipient fires.


1910:  fires were prevalent during the spring and summer. In May, Mosinee was partially burned and the surrounding region much damaged. In July, the town ofCornucopia was surrounded by fire but saved by rain. In the same month an area fifty miles long by forty wide was burned over near Chippewa Falls, 300 persons were rendered homeless, and three lives were known to have been lost.


1918: the Cloquet,Minn., forest fire in October killed 800, burned 21 towns, caused $100,000,000 property damage and threatenedSuperior, causing darkness to fall upon that city early in the afternoon. About 15,000 suits were brought against the federal government to recover losses incurred in the Cloquet fire. About $15,000,000 was awarded litigants after it was proved in some cases that sparks from the government's operation of trains ignited the forests.


1920: October, 9-11 forest fires in Douglas County caused losses amounting to $1,300,000


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Schafer, Joesph. "Outline History of Wisconsin." 1925 Wisconsin Blue book (Madison, 1925)