The History of National Fire Prevention Month

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and many might not be aware of the reason why.

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed 3.3 square miles of the great city of Chicago. I’d like you to take a second to reflect on how big of an area that encompasses.

That fire was responsible for the loss of approximately 300 lives and displaced nearly 100,000 people. Around that same time, another in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. 

Many people are unaware that a much greater fire also occurred during that exact same date in Peshtigo, Wisconsin that is being named the most devastating forest fire in American history. The fire covered an area of forest and towns that was estimated to be ten miles wide and 40 miles long or more across six counties in Wisconsin and into the northern peninsula of Michigan. It consumed the lives of 1,000 to 2,400 residents, but the precise number of lives lost is unknown due to the large number of lumberjacks, railroad, and factory workers in the area that lived in camps and boarding houses. 

The intensity of the Peshtigo Fire was so great that all that remained of former houses, churches, and various other buildings were brick chimneys and foundation stones. Much of the local industry relied upon wood products and most of the buildings were constructed of wood as well. And with ample wood and wood products available for fuel, it’s no wonder the fire burned for miles and miles. The fire is named the Peshtigo Fire due to the heavy loss of life in Peshtigo, which turned out to be about 50% of the community’s 1870 census population.

Let’s Work Together to Prevent Fires

While the hot summer months are over, we are not totally out of the woods yet. 

Experts emphasize the coming winter months will see an increase in residential fires, and their associated fire injuries and deaths with many residents relying on furnaces and fireplaces to keep warm. That said, there there are steps we can take to stay safe and warm.

Be aware that all heat sources need to be properly maintained. That includes electric heat, portable or otherwise, all furnaces, wood stoves, and fireplaces.

Draperies, furniture, clothing and other combustible materials need to be kept a safe distance from heat sources.

Paper, plastic and cardboard items need to remain a safe distance from potential ignition sources.

Candles should never be left burning without appropriate supervision. Try battery-operated candles for a similar mood.

Kitchen areas are also a significant source of ignition for house fires. Make sure that burners, grills, electric cooking appliances, and other potential sources of heat are not encroached upon by towels, paper products, and other items. Even pets can inadvertently start a fire by jumping or otherwise energizing an unattended burner or the like. Pets should be secured away from the kitchen area for their safety as well as our own.

Of course, smoking materials need to be considered in preventing fires as well as any curious little ones that gain access to unattended sources of fire they see as play items.

Ensure that all smoke alarms have working batteries and that they, and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly.

Keep a fire extinguisher on each level of the home and another one in the garage. Check to see if the extinguishers are up to date or expired. These make great gifts for loved ones living outside of your home, and could be actual life-savers for those residing with you. Learn how to use one, too, if you need. The worst time to learn is when the flames are present and between you and your family members.

As we direct our efforts toward preventing, rather than reacting to a fire, we reduce the risks related to fires. We can reduce fires, injuries, and even the loss of lives as we learn and participate.

Kevin Jennings
Kevin Jennings
Husband to one - Dad to six - Grandpa to five - Friend and Neighbor to all.

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