The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871

A lot has been written about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but there was another fire that happened on the same date, in the same year, that caused greater loss of life and devastation.



The story goes that railroad workers were clearing land for the railway and a brush fire was accidently started. Due to drought and high temperatures the flames moved rapidly and in less than an hour the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, was in ashes.

With high winds pushing the fire the city of Marinette, located on Green Bay, was in danger. Steam whistles from the mills and tugboats in the harbor could be heard sounding the alarm and every man available rushed to the scene. Streets were filled with people fleeing and some were burying their valuables in the sand hoping to save them.

There were 15 other towns nearby which burned to the ground before the fire finally flamed out. Over 1,200 people were killed and 1.2 million acres scorched in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Every October 8th, the Peshtigo Historical Society observes the anniversary of the fire with a candlelight service.


Both the Peshtigo and Chicago fires transformed the way firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) established Fire Prevention Week in 1922 which is observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9th falls. This year the theme is “Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years.”

Fire rated door openings play an important role in a building’s passive fire protection (PFP). PFP comprises of three components of structural fire protection and fire safety in a building. These three components are fire-resistant walls, floors, and doors. The purpose of these components is to hinder the fire for a specific length of time. All components of the opening have to be rated.

Every swinging fire door must have a listed and labeled self-latching device to engage the strike to be fire-rated. Push and pull plates cannot be used on a fire-rated door. The door has to latch into the frame when closed so it stays closed. The latch prevents the door from opening during a fire if something falls against it. This means you must use at least a passage lockset on the door. Deadbolts cannot be used in place of a latching device because they are not self-latching.

The door also must be self-closing to be fire-rated. A properly sized, listed and labeled closing device is part of basic fire door hardware requirements. If the door is left open during a fire, then that opening cannot hinder the fire as it was meant to do; the door needs to close after a person passes through it. This is usually done by a door closer or, in some cases, spring hinges. Steel ball bearings and steel based hinges must be used on fire-rated doors. Brass, bronze, and other base materials cannot be used unless tested as an assembly. Continuous hinges are allowed as tested. Plain bearing hinges cannot be used. Bearing hinges minimize wear from an everyday operation and help prevent door sag. During a fire, the door needs to operate smoothly so closers and latching devices work properly.

These are basic requirements. Codes differ from area to area and are enforced by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Per the U.S. Fire Administration deaths by fire in the United States were down 21% in 2013 from 2004. Fires were also down by 21.6% in 2013 from 2004.

We will work to see this trend continues to decline. We hope you will follow the link to the NFPA to learn more on what you can do to protect your family, house and business.