Fire in the sky

posted in: SlimJim, Weather History | 5

While Hurricane Irma heads towards Florida let’s hope and pray that ever one in Florida stays safe. You can replace possessions but your life and the life of your family you cannot replace. This week I will take a look at a disaster that struck Michigan in September of 1881.


During September of 1881, fire swept across the Thumb of Michigan laying claim to life, property and natural resources, primarily in Sanilac, Huron and Tuscola counties. Here is a newspaper report that made the national wire service.
DETROIT, Mich., Sept. 7. – Reports are beginning to arrive from the northern and northeastern portion of the State, showing a terrible condition of affairs. The long-continued drought has rendered everything as dry as tinder, and numerous “flashings” or partly cleared tracts of land, covered with brush, decayed timber, and other inflammable materials, afford the best possible medium for the rapid spread of the flames, carried by the high winds which have been prevailing. Sanilac and Huron Counties, lying on the shore of Lake Huron, between Port Huron and Saginaw Bay, are the scenes of the greatest destruction, which is growing positively appalling in character. Hundreds of farms have already been reduced to blackened ashes. Stock, crops, farm buildings, and fences, all have been swept away. Men, women, and children have been overtaken by the flames, and several lives are known to have been lost. It is feared, when full accounts are received, that the loss of life will prove terrible. The little hamlets of Anderson, Richmondville, Charleston, and Sanilac are all reported to have been wiped out, while Port Hope, Verona Mills, and Bad Axe, Huron County, are reported wholly or partly burned up. The people are flocking to the shore of Lake Huron from the interior of these counties as the only refuge from the flames. Some were overtaken by the spreading fire. Not less than 20 deaths are already reported, but it is hoped that these statements may prove incorrect. In Tuscola County, in the next tier of counties back from Lake Huron and south of Saginaw, fires are also raging, but with less severity. The losses there are overshadowed by the more terrible condition of things in the adjoining counties. The same state of affairs exists in Lapeer County, next south of Tuscola, and the whole country around Saginaw and Bay City is ablaze from the marshes taking fire. Reports of many losses to farmers are beginning to reach here. The weather continues excessively hot, and there is no sign of rain


fire 1881
DETROIT, Mich., Sept. 8. – Telegraphic communications is entirely cut off with the worst part of the burned region of this State, so that reports are yet somewhat fragmentary, and, it is hoped, exaggerated, but there are many fears that the worst is far from having been told. The complete destruction of Richmondville, Sanilac County, is confirmed. The villages of Carson, Charleston, and Tyre are reported to be completely destroyed, and Ashley partly so. The townships of Delaware, Hunken, Austin, in Sanilac County, and Bingham, Sherman, and Paris, in Huron County, are burned over and deserted. The crops in these townships were all harvested, and nearly all are now lost. The bodies of a family of seven persons named Redmond were found in a well near Charleston, they having entered the well for shelter and were there suffocated. The charred remains of Henry Cole were also found at Charleston, and a family named Lusula in Paris township, and a Mrs. Diebert and her three children were overtaken by the flames and burned to death. In Watertown township another family named Dennison are believed to have been burned. Two families named Thornton and Lee, it is feared, fell a prey to the flames. Near Richmondville there was a gale carrying the fire with a rapidity that often prevented escape. Yesterday afternoon the direction of the wind changed, and this, it is feared, will add new destruction by sending the flames over regions that had escaped. It was much cooler last night, which is in that respect favorable; but the wind is high and the country helpless. There are no signs of rain, without which there seems to be no deliverance. The Board of Trade of this city yesterday appointed committees to solicit relief for the destitute communities, as it is very evident that a large work in that direction is at our doors. Hundreds of families have lost all their property and this year’s crops, and are reduced to a condition of absolute and immediate want. So while this year it is flooding that is making the news in 1881 it was fire and the location was in our back yard.
While the indications are that the summer of 1881 was very dry and there are no weather reports from Flint or Saginaw in 1881 but in Lansing and Detroit June was cool and wet with Lansing at -4..5° with 4.33” of rain, at Detroit they were -5.0° and there was 5.90” of rain. July was near average with Lansing and Detroit at +1.0° At Detroit there was 3.33” of rain while at Lansing it was 1.81” August was moderately hot with Detroit at +2.2° and Lansing +2.1° there was 1.32” of rain at Detroit and 1.63” at Lansing. September turned hot with Detroit at +7.8° and Lansing +7.1° there was 2.90” of rain that Lansing and 2.86” at Detroit but most of that fell late in the month.

5 on "Fire in the sky"

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Jack Edwards
Wow…Something I Had Never Heard Of , And I Have Lived In The Great State of MICHIGAN. All My Born Days….. Thanks Slim. And on a SPACE Note…     Last 24 hours: 6 Kp possible. When does the Aurora storm watch begin?       The 96 hour magnetic storm… Read more »
Mark (East Lansing)
Fascinating post. I too had never heard of this event. Many of those towns never rebuilt and ceased to exist after the fires. One more observation on the story – the language and vernacular used back then was just so cool. I dare say that we have become lazy in… Read more »
agreed – I am a voracious reader – I have read many of the old classics from the 19th century – compared to what we have now the English language has certainly been dumbed down. With all the slang we have now I wonder how it will be in another… Read more »
On a side note – I am working on setting of a new Word Press site – it will be almost identical to this one with the exception of the domain name. I am moving away from the Coffee Shoppe theme and am thinking of a more professional name such… Read more »
Sandy (Hudsonville)

Great post Slim. I really enjoyed reading this.