[meteorite-list] Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Firesof1871?
From: Sterling K. Webb <kelly_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue Aug 24 22:36:24 2004
Hi, Dave and All,
Weather monitoring, as a national function carried out with standardized
instrumentation, fixed observation places and times, and so forth, in other
words, the modern National Weather Service model, was in existence in 1871,
though for a limited number of stations. You will find a URL to the NWS map for
Oct. 8, 1871, further down in this post, Dave.
There was no seismographic data. The first continuously operated recording
seismograph was set up in the British Museum (yes, now the NHM, we know) in 1872.
Sidelight: an "earthquake" in March, 1873, about fifty miles from London,
complete with shaking buildings, loose tiles falling, windows broken and a vast
rumbling BOOM, can be pinpointed as an airburst (meteoric?) because there was no
ground movement recorded.
There is reason to suspect that a great many events recorded during the 17th
and 18th centuries as earthquakes or vulcanism were airbursts. Many old
earthquake reports sound just like real and ordinary earthquakes, but a certain
percentage have dramatic characteristics unlike earthquakes: vast aerial
explosions, both bright and loud, with skies turning dark as night during the
daytime, boiling clouds, dust lightning, high winds, accompanying the usual
buildings shaking, windows breaking, et cetera. Does all that sound like an
earthquake to you? However, that is a topic for another crackpot posting on
The same data-free situation applies to barographs (recording barometers);
there were none in 1871. By the time of Tunguska, barograph records clearly show
the pressure wave of that airburst moving around the entire planet two and a half
times before dying out.
So, no, we don't have much "hard" data, only relative data. But humans are
reasonably good with relative data from comparative experience. We can tell when
it's hotter today than yesterday without a thermometer, with a sensitivity of 3
to 5 degrees (F). People in agricultural areas are surprizingly astute direct
judges of surface moisture stocks (too dry, too wet) from surface soil conditions
and the health of various plants.
Everyone, at the time, said it was an unusually dry fall season, the driest
in a decade or so. That, of course, suggests the fires were natural events. The
other side of the coin is that seasons are warmer than normal about half the time
and colder than normal about half the time, wetter than normal about half the
time and dryer than normal about half the time, so why don't (or didn't) we have
superfires like these every decade or so? Or every fifty years? Or every century?
For example, here's a citation from <http://www.peshtigofire.info>, a website
that debunks the impact theory, citing a book that debunks the impact theory:
Pyne, author of The Cultural History Of Fire in America, vividly describes
them: "The turbulence from the violent convection was awesome. Winds of 60-80 mph
uprooted trees like match sticks; a 1,000 pound wagon was tossed like a
tumbleweed. Papers were lofted by the winds from Michigan across Lake Huron to
Canada. The peculiar physics of mass fire had multiplied its fury into a
maelstrom of energy equivalent to the chain reaction of a thermonuclear bomb."
That's from a book that thinks it's debunking the impact theory! What's being
described here is a firestorm, what he calls the "peculiar physics of mass fire,"
without understanding that a firestorm is not a natural event, cannot occur
spontaneously. Just trot on down to your nearest nuclear weapons lab and ask'em.
The above mentioned website has a fine bibliography that includes all the
crackpot books about the fires, and there is a slew of them. All re-use the
Ignatius Donnelly theory about Comet Biela striking the Earth (crazy) and all
ascribe the fire phenomenon to "comet gas." These books are all written by
non-scientists and are literally and figuratively full of comet gas.
Speculation about gas as an explanation for the peculiar nature of the fires
begins immediately after the fires. Here's the URL of an eyewitness account of
the Peshtigo fire: <http://www.library.wisc.edu/etext/WIReader/WER2002-0.html>.
Oh, great, you think, that will clear everything up: eyewitnesses. Guess
again. This demonstrates the difficulty that no witness sees much more than they
think they see. On page 7 of this document you will find the National Weather
Service US weather map as promised. The only real clue, later in the account, as
an after-thought: "I must not fail to add the shock of the earthquake that
preceded the outbreak of the terrible flames." Good coincidence: firestorm +
Another good site is:
although it sticks to the forest fire created a firestorm theory, which just
can't happen. The authors here talk about the 40-60 mph winds that "somehow"
became stationary over Peshtigo. That's more crackpot than comet gas.
A site called the WeatherNotebook says of Peshtigo: "A huge forest fire was
making its own circulation, like a tornado. It threw out fiery debris and pulled
in gale-force winds." Yeah, that's sounds like real good weather science to me...
Musta been comet gas...
There was an article about the comet theory in Meteorite magazine (March,
2003). The text is here: <http://www.riotacts.com/fire/cow-comet.html>. He favors
Some Peshtigo Fire urls:
Google has 9500 references to "peshtigo fire" and 750 for "peshtigo fire
impact." Knock yourself out. I did.
Sterling K. Webb
David Freeman wrote:
> Dear Believers and non Believers;
> So, in all of his, does anyone actually have a genuine measured
> temperature, genuine measured relative humidity, wind speed (actually
> monitored not just "guessed"), and wind direction for ANY OF THESE
> Having said that, it is October, food is cooked at this time in history
> with wood or coal fuels, we are in the middle of an extremely large
> lumbering area with millions of acres of pine slashings and toward the
> end of a historically dry summer/early fall.
> I would really like to see the meteorite/cometary factions offer some
> REAL relative humidity numbers..... to win me more toward the
> impossible......is that possible?
> Next topic, UFO Abductions.
> Dave Freeman
> Sterling K. Webb wrote:
> >Hi, Paul,
> > The phrase "all the fires" comes from the newspaper, not me. My comments
> >address only the Peshtigo fire, those small towns near Peshtigo, and the
> >Chicago fire.
> > Of course, there is a natural background rate of forest and grass fires
> >after a long dry summer, and some of the October 8th fires had been burning
> >earlier and there were fires afterward, too.
> > But, I'll stand by the word "simultaneous." The Wisconsin fires (nine
> >towns over four counties, including Peshtigo) all started at the same time
> >as nearly as can be determined. The time of the Peshtigo fire (9:30 pm) and
> >the start of the Great Chicago Fire (9:25 pm) are for all practical
> >historical purposes simultaneous, even though they are separated by hundreds
> >of miles. Quite a coincidence!
> > Hey, if you like coincidences, try this one. The Wisconsin fires are all
> >oriented on a linear track running north and south and pointing at the
> >radiant point of the Draconid shower. Well, OK, within 10 degrees. Still,
> >it's a pretty good coincidence.
> > The Michigan fires were regarded as complicating the picture (because
> >there were so many small fires already burning) as early as 1872. See
> >"History of the Great Conflagration," by Sheahan and Upson, Chicago, 1872.
> >However, it is difficult to explain the outbreak of intense and major new
> >fires all over the state of Michigan, all starting at 9:30 to 10:00 pm, if
> >each was the independent result of the random flare-up of an existing fire,
> >and the absence of any new fires after October 8th.
> > There were also fires in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, both Dakotas, and in
> >Manitoba and Alberta, Canada. I hold no brief for them (or the Michigan
> >fires). Some, none, or all may have been triggered by air-bursts. I have not
> >been able to uncover any definitive signs of firestorms (very high
> >temperatures, de-oxygenated zones, etc.) in any account of the fires other
> >in than Chicago and Wisconsin. That could be accounted for by the absence of
> >concentrated fuel stocks or by the absence of thermal air-bursts or by their
> >being natural fires, take your pick.
> > It's mostly a case of attitude. If you accept the likelihood of an
> >airburst causing the Chicago and Peshtigo fires, then the other fires are
> >suspicious but indeterminate. If you go with the one-cow theory, well, fires
> >are fires and they start all the time, so what? Both are reasonable but
> >depend on where your starting point lies.
> >Paul H wrote:
> >>In Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of
> >>Sterling K. Webb wrote:
> >>"These strange fires were not restricted
> >>to the IL-WI-MI triangle centered around
> >>the southern end of Lake Michigan. Because
> >>of the slowness of communication in 1871,
> >>it was not immediately recognized that the
> >>fires of October 8, 1871 were scattered
> >>over parts of seven states and Canada and
> >>may have caused as many as 10,000 deaths."
> >>I would be interested to know where the claim that the
> >>fire actually started in seven states and Canada
> >>simultaneously. From what I seen written in well-
> >>researched books on the 1871 fire, i.e. "Michigan On
> >>Fire" by Betty Sodders in 1997, the fact of the matter
> >>is that fires outside IL-WI-MI area were occurring and
> >>started well before October 8 and had been occurring
> >>all Fall because of the hot and dry weather that had
> >>created a drought that was devastating in its own
> >>If a person looks at the historical record, he or she
> >>would find that it is an absolute misrepresentation of
> >>it in stating that these fires all started
> >>with the October 8 fire. The so-called "instantaneous"
> >>"simultaneous" nature of the fire, from what I have
> >>seen, is pure fiction created by shoddy research and
> >>wishful thinking on the part of advocates of the comet
> >>impact theory, who seem to be rather ill-informed of
> >>the actual chronology of forest fires in 1871.
> >>For example, a person can read "The Fire that
> >>Holland, Michigan" at:
> >>In terms of the so-called "simultaneous" nature of the
> >>1871 fire, the web page noted:
> >>"There had already been a threat of danger
> >>earlier in the week. Fires kept smoldering
> >>and burned barns and houses, but the danger
> >>seemed to be far from the city. Then on
> >>Sunday, October 9, there were reports that
> >>a threatening forest fire was coming."
> >>"The community at the time was populated with
> >>2400 residents and for many days previous,
> >>these residents had battled and beaten many
> >>small fires that had erupted throughout the
> >>It is quite clear that fires were starting within the
> >>area of the 1871 fire days, even weeks, before October
> >>The fire of 1871 simply didn't magically appear on
> >>8, 1871 out of nowhere but was preceded by numerous
> >>smaller fires days, even weeks, before it occurred.
> >>Even more interesting comments about the 1871 fire
> >>can be found in "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan
> >>Wildland Fire In Michigan". at:
> >>This web page stated:
> >>"It was not a single fire but a combination
> >>of hundreds of fires, small and large, that
> >>had been burning unattended for weeks, only
> >>to flare up and unite when conditions became
> >>This statement totally demolishes the case for a
> >>meteorite or comet, as the 1871 didn't start on Oct.
> >>1871. Rather the "1871 fire" on October 8 occurred
> >>it exploded into a firestorm when fires only after
> >>for days, even weeks, before that date. Oct 8 was
> >>the point that these fires, as they coalesced,
> >>the critical mass needed to explode into massive
> >>The historical record also clearly demonstrates the
> >>source of these fires. For example, the "History &
> >>Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan"
> >>web page stated:
> >>"Set carelessly or by settlers in clearing
> >>land, fires burned everywhere, and ran
> >>uncontrolled into the woods and swamps
> >>where they continued to smolder."
> >>Also, the "The Fire that Destroyed Holland, Michigan"
> >>web page stated:
> >>"In the fall of 1871, the ground was very
> >>dry after the long summer. The summer had
> >>been very hot and dry and some areas hadn't
> >>had rain since June. In Holland, fires
> >>began in the piles of sawdust, waste wood,
> >>and finished lumber in the yards of the
> >>city's several sawmills, and the winds
> >>quickly spread the flames throughout the
> >>town. The small spark ignited the piles
> >>of wood and spread to become one of
> >>Michigan's most widespread forest fire."
> >>These quotes point out the fact that that Michigan was
> >>having problems with outbreaks of smaller fires, weeks
> >>before October 8. The fire simply didn't magically,
> >>simultaneously start on that date, but rather
> >>small fires, which had been burning for weeks before
> >>October 8, came together on that date. The fact that
> >>smaller fires were burning many days prior to October
> >>refutes the claim that everything simultaneously burst
> >>into flame on that date and the so-called anomalous
> >>nature of the fire. It is quite obvious that long
> >>October 8, this region was having major problems with
> >>outbreaks of multiple, ongoing fires.
> >>The "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland
> >>Fire In Michigan" stated:
> >>"Michigan was extensively logged toward the
> >>end of the 19th century. The White Pine that
> >>had once covered Michigan was cut, followed
> >>by the hardwood forests, and large expanses
> >>of slash (the branches and other debris left
> >>after logging) were left behind. Many areas
> >>were cleared for farming, and the vegetation
> >>was burned to dispose of it. Several catastrophic
> >>fires resulted from the indiscriminate burning
> >>of slash following logging and land clearing
> >>for agriculture."
> >>"In the summer of 1871, a drought occurred over
> >>much of the Great Lakes region. Slash and debris
> >>from logging and land clearing became tinder-dry
> >>during the months without rain. From early
> >>August no rain fell, pastures and gardens dried
> >>up, wells went dry, streams shrank to a mere
> >>trickle, and crops failed."
> >>These conditions, i.e. the abundance of fuel, created
> >>careless logging techniques and forest land
> >>the hot and dry weather and massive drought; and the
> >>careless use of fire to clear land made for an ideal
> >>situation for the development of a catastrophic fire.
> >>In fact, a fire similar in magnitude to the 1871 fire
> >>occurred tens years later in September of 1881 in the
> >>Thumb area of Michigan. It was more serve, caused more
> >>damage, and made more people to be homeless than the
> >>1871 fire.
> >>About the 1881 fire, the "History & Ecology of Fire in
> >>Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan" stated:
> >>"Like the 1871 fire, the fire of 1881 came
> >>at the end of an extremely severe drought
> >>and was the result of hundreds of land-clearing
> >>fires whipped into a seething cauldron of flame
> >>by high winds."
> >>This discussion reminds me of a "mysterious" sinking
> >>of the Sandra that allegedly sank in a calm sea
> >>any distress signal as described by Charles Berlitz in
> >>his book "The Bermuda Triangle". When Larry Kusche
> >>looked into this disappearance, he found that the ship
> >>was half as long as the book stated and it disappeared
> >>in the middle of a hurricane. In this case, as in the
> >>1871 fires, the mystery disappears when the
> >>misinformation and folklore is replaced by documented
> >>Baton Rouge, LA
Received on Tue 24 Aug 2004 10:34:03 PM PDT