[meteorite-list] Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of 1871?
From: David Freeman <dfreeman_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon Aug 23 14:16:46 2004
Dear Ron, and List;
I am originally from the Cadillac, MI area, graduated HS there. Lived in
Sherman for three years, tiny town and former county seat (and the
1880's civil riot that moved the courthouse to Cadillac).
I have seen many thousands of burned white pine and red pine stumps from
the 1871 fires. Knowing how dry it can be in Michigan's predominantly
pine forests in the month of August, spontaneous combustion is more
likely than a meteorite or commentary source of ignition.
Heat lightening and thunderstorm related lightening is a much higher
probabliltity as is the native americans burning the blueberry bogs as
they do annually. During that time, the state was loaded with pine
slashings from the buildup of logging the massive forests of the day.
I think this story has more holes than an old Willie Nelson T shirt!
Skeptical is putting it lightly, I think it is just plain grasping at
nothing for the sake of getting one's name in the paper. Must be a very
slow news day for the Cadillac Evening News (that I had subscribed to
Ron Baalke wrote:
>Could a meteorite or comet cause all the fires of 1871?
>By Dale Killingbeck
>Cadillac News (Michigan)
>August 23, 2004
>CADILLAC - The skies around Sherman and the village of Clam Lake
>undoubtedly turned from blue to black.
>In Chicago, flames were racing through the city and in Peshtigo, Wis.,
>people were running for their lives. Flames from the woods near Manistee
>invaded the town on a quiet Sunday - and people fought for their homes.
>Within three days of the fires, thousands were homeless, hundreds from
>Chicago, Wisconsin and Michigan dead, and many pioneers faced the winter
>without a home or crops to eat.
>In the month of the Perseid Meteor shower, it is interesting to ponder -
>could a disintegrated comet be the cause of the fires?
>An Upper Peninsula systems design engineer thinks so, as does a former
>physicist with McDonnell Douglas Corp.
>Consider a statement by the Detroit Post on Oct. 10, 1871: "In all parts
>of the state, as will be noticed by our correspondence during the past
>few days and also today, there are numerous fires in the wood, in many
>places approaching so near to towns as to endanger the towns themselves."
>In Holland, fire destroyed the city, in Lansing flames threatened the
>agricultural college and in the Thumb, farmers trying to establish
>homesteads soon would be diving into shallow wells to escape an inferno
>some newspapers dubbed: "The Fiery Fiend." Many did not escape.
>Fires threatened Muskegon, South Haven, Grand Rapids, Wayland and
>reached the outskirts of Big Rapids. A steamship passing the Manitou
>Islands reported they were on fire.
>A horror story? Yes. And so real that historic markers to the event can
>be found at Manistee and in the Thumb. Lots has been written about the
>storm of fire that killed 2,000 in Peshtigo, Wis., and the Great Chicago
>Fire and the fires that devastated the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
>Theories for the fires are many - but one thing is certain, the
>devouring flames showed up at the same time.
>Most historians point to the dry weather of the summer and the poor
>logging practices of the day for creating conditions ripe for a hot dry
>wind from the southwest that blew into the area whipping up small fires
>already smoldering and carrying destruction through the state.
>Theories for the Chicago and Michigan fires include Mrs. O'Leary's cow
>knocking over the lantern and then firebrands from Chicago being driven
>across the lake to ignite Michigan. But there is another interesting
>theory that continues to make the rounds on the Web and in at least one
>presentation by a retired physicist who worked for McDonnell Douglas Corp.
>In 1871, fire erupted in Chicago, Wisconsin and northern Michigan at the
>same time. Some believe a meteorite or comet was to blame.
>The Discovery Channel reported on its Web site in March a presentation
>by Robert Wood, a retired McDonnell-Douglas physicist, who theorizes
>fragments of a comet discovered in the early 1820s possibly caused the
>Wood theorized that small pieces of frozen methane, acetylene or other
>high combustive materials hit the earth sparking the flames.
>That theory also resounds with Munising's Ken Rieli who believes he
>found a chunk of meteorite in the waters off the Port Sanilac shore a
>few years ago.
>"We started doing an investigation on where the meteorite came from," he
>said. His investigation also took him back to the Comet Biela that was
>discovered in 1821 and returned every six years and nine months. It was
>last seen in 1866 and never showed up in 1872.
>"It was supposed to recycle and it wasn't there," Rieli said. He
>questions how fires could start simultaneously in Chicago, Minnesota,
>Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario. He also notes how dry summers and
>strong winds since have never produced a similar result in America's
>"If these are coming down like buckshot with real dry conditions ..."
>Rieli theorizes how flaming space rocks could have ignited fires in many
>places. He said he's been contacted by relatives of survivors of the
>Peshtigo fire who shared stories from their ancestors about seeing fire
>falling from the sky.
>Physicist Wood in his report cited eyewitness reports of spontaneous
>ignition and "fire balloons."
>Rieli said Canadian geologists found a huge impact crater 200 feet below
>Lake Huron in the Port Huron area in the early 1990s. He said he has a
>relative who participated in drilling for a water pipeline to serve the
>Detroit in the same area at the same depth. He said crews discovered
>meteorite-like rock as they bored a hole for the pipeline.
>"They were bringing it out and piling it up," he said. He said the rock
>was reformulated and either was volcanic or a meteorite.
>"It's another piece of evidence that the Michigan area and parts of
>Canada, Illinois are ground zero for an active meteor strike zone."
>Michigan State University's David Batch, director of the Abram's
>Planetarium, said he had not heard the theory before and is skeptical
>that a comet or meteorite could have caused the fires.
>Batch said meteorites that have come through the atmosphere and hit the
>ground are never hot when people have had the opportunity to run over to
>the piece of space rock immediately.
>"When they run over to them, there is a frost to them," he said.
>"There's no known evidence of a comet or a meteorite causing a fire in
>Batch said comet particles are mostly ice and would not survive to hit
>the ground while the meteorite only glows hot in the very outer surface
>as it passes through atmosphere.
>"It's only heated to those temperatures for a very short time," he said.
>"It's like the outer millimeter that is heated up. The rest of it stays
>Rieli counters that if the meteorite chunk exceeds one pound and has
>enough mass, it will not cool by the time it hits the ground.
>"That's only true under a certain mass of rock," he said.
>He said the Comet Biela had to have hit an asteroid belt when it broke
>up around Jupiter and likely the debris carried a mixture of rock and
>ice when the Earth plowed through the field in October 1871. The result
>was hundreds of hot rocks flying through the atmosphere and in many
>cases striking tinder-dry woods.
>While residents around the state battled flames, information about the
>area around Cadillac, then Clam Lake, is fuzzy. The first newspaper did
>not start until 1872.
>The village began the same year as the firestorm and by October of that
>year there was a sawmill, hotels, a general store some boarding houses,
>along with other buildings, according to Judge William Peterson's "The
>View from Courthouse Hill."
>Peterson recounts near Sherman, the area between Mesick and Sherman
>Hill, there were numerous fires at the same time Manistee and Chicago
>were burning down.
>"It was said sparks from the fires in Wisconsin that summer or the great
>Chicago fire in October or the conflagration that destroyed Manistee at
>the same time, started a large number of fires in the Sherman area,"
>Among the losses were a sawmill and the prosecutor's house.
>Rieli acknowledges his theory is controversial. His Web site is meant to
>spark conversation - but he believes his chunk of carbonaceous chondrite
>meteorite bolsters his theory. Any certainty would require more research.
>"It's just a present thing we are doing," he said. "People need to
>expand their minds."
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Received on Mon 23 Aug 2004 02:15:38 PM PDT