In 1871, a pair of huge firestorms drove burning whirlwinds through Wisconsin and
Michigan. The fires took more than a thousand lives.
It had been a dry autumn in the area, with no rain since July 8. Small fires had
blazed out for weeks near Green Bay. On Sunday, October 8, a heavy veil of yellow smoke
covered the skies over Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Unknown to the residents, a rising wind
had ignited a single, huge wall of fire that was roaring down on the town like a tidal
wave of flames. The fire struck the town shortly after 9 p.m. One newscaster reported,
“Houses crumpled like paper and flaming roofs were borne away like gigantic sparks upon
the fiery gale.” The air itself caused people to die from inhalation. Hair and clothing
burst into flame. Hundreds of people tried to jump into the cooling waters of Peshtigo
River to escape the fire.
Survivors of the event described the blazing wall as a “tornado of fire.” Reports came
back of a huge, black, balloon-like object spinning through the air over the trees,
witnessed during the fire. Later studies showed that this was a whirlwind created by the
fire. Apparently, after additional studies of World War II bombing raids, fires have
been found to create massive updrafts of air and surface winds with the force of a
hurricane. These winds in turn create powerful vortexes, whirlwinds, and tornadoes.
The incident flattened twenty-three towns, damaged eighteen others, and destroyed
hundreds of farms. About 1,500 people were lost in the conflagration, while 1.3 million
acres of forest were burned. This accident is hardly remembered in history, however,
because another great tragedy occurred on the same night, one that took five times as
many lives - the Great Chicago Fire.
Another similar firestorm occurred on June 14, 1960 in the peaceful community of
Kopperl, Texas (USA). The evening had been pleasant, with light breezes flowing off
from a nearby lake. However, strange clouds began to mass overhead, snapping with giant
rays of lightning. The air, driven by hurricane-sized winds, became a blistering 140
degrees Fahrenheight. Plants and crops wilted on their stalks. People had trouble
breathing, and wrapped themselves in wet blankets.
It was later discovered that only Kopperl had experienced the strange weather behavior.
It is still unknown, to this day, what caused the anomaly.