On Sunday evening, October 8, 1871 a fire occurred in northeast Wisconsin, The Peshtigo Fire. It was overshadowed in the news and in history by the Great Chicago Fire that occurred the same day and nearly the same time. The fire story in Wisconsin centered on a town of about 2,000 residents named Peshtigo. While the Chicago fire killed about 300 people, estimates of human lives lost in the Peshtigo fire will never be known. One report stated that 1,800 of the 2,000 Peshtigo residents died. No one could count all of the others who died in the large area consumed by the fire. Estimates of the total number of dead range as high as 2,500.
The fire destroyed about 2,400 square miles, an area nearly 2.5 times the area of Rhode Island, 1.2 time the area of Delaware or half the area of Connecticut. In comparison, the Chicago Fire destroyed about 3.3 square miles. In places the Peshtigo Fire was two to five miles wide.
The fire area in Wisconsin was dense with trees. The majority were virgin white pine that reached a height of 125 to 150 feet and had trunks that were 4-8 feet in diameter. Typically, branches near the tree tops spread 50 to 70 feet wide.
One estimate noted the trees were very dense, containing about 640 trees per square acre. Someone else said the trees were so dense that one could not walk through them. People had to cut their way to make a trail. With 640 acres per square mile, the fire consumed about 1 billion trees. One tree provided more than enough lumber to build a house.