Chapter 3: Aftermath

Survivors

The firestorm had died out by morning, leaving evidence that it was no ordinary fire. The intense heat melted the bell at Father Pernin’s church. Strange holes in the ground marked the location of trees whose roots were devoured by the fire to their very ends. Patches of sand were melted into glass, and railroad cars were tossed around. The only structures standing were a brick kiln and a partially-constructed house of fresh timber.

Many survivors were badly burned. Some were blinded by the smoke, and all were coughing from breathing the hot air. They were cold, wet, and barely clothed—literally escaping with less than the shirts on their backs. Many wandered, ¬†calling for lost family members. Father Pernin describes the scene:

Today, in recalling the past, I can see that the moment most fraught with danger was precisely that in which danger seemed at an end. The atmosphere, previously hot as the breath of a furnace, was gradually becoming colder and colder, and, after having been so long in the river, I was of course exceedingly susceptible to its chilly influence. My clothes were thoroughly saturated. There was no want of fire, and I easily dried my outer garments, but the inner ones were wet, and their searching dampness penetrated to my inmost frame, affecting my very lungs…My chest was oppressed to suffocation, my throat swollen, and in addition to an almost total inability to move, I could scarcely use my voice—utter a word.

Almost lifeless, I stretched myself out full length on the sand. The latter was still hot, and the warmth in some degree restored me. Removing shoes and socks I placed my feet in immediate contact with the heated ground, and felt additionally relieved. 

My eyes were now beginning to cause me the most acute pain, and this proved the case, to a greater or less extent, with all those who had not covered theirs during the long storm of fire through which we had passed…I was now perfectly blind.

Fortunately for Father Pernin, his blindness was temporary. But even before his eyesight returned, he had duties to perform, such as consoling those were were dying from their burns.

Another great casualty of the fire were animals, both wild and domestic. Many woodland creatures did not survive, as well as fish. Birds were seen trying to escape but burned in midair or sucked back into the vortex.

There was no food, no shelter, not even sunshine—the sun was dark for many days.

In the early afternoon, food arrived from Marinette, seven miles away. Marinette had suffered only partial damage. Its hotels and homes were open as hospitals to treat survivors, many of whom died from their injuries or sustained permanent damage.

Because the telegraph lines were destroyed, word of the fire did not get out immediately. The nearest working telegraph was in Green Bay, 45 miles away. Two days after the fire, news of the total destruction reached the governor’s office. Governor Lucius Fairchild was already en route to Chicago with supplies to help the survivors of the Chicago Fire (which burned the same night as the Peshtigo Fire). When his wife, Frances, heard the news, she stopped a train car that was loaded with food and supplies to Chicago and rerouted it to Peshtigo. She also coordinated a blanket drive in Madison and sent the bedding to Peshtigo. Appeals to the nation from the governor resulted in great quantities of food and supplies.