Saturday, September 5, 2015

FIRESTORM AT PESHTIGO by Denise Gess and William Lutz

I had known about this fire event before, as well as the fact that the "Great Fire of Chicago" often received far more of publicity, regardless of the fact that the Peshtigo Fire was far larger (300 people vs. 2,200 dead, and the destruction of multiple towns).  However, until I read this book I couldn't possibly imagine the extent of the loss and damage left in its wake.  The book by Gess and Lutz helps the reader appreciate the genesis of this incredible blaze by carefully documenting the circumstances leading up to a truly 'perfect storm.'  Some may desire a more technical account, and there are other volumes that address this.  However, Gess and Lutz have researched their topic well and the notes at the end provide many references for further reading.  All told the story is well told and captures best the horrid tragedy that still defies description.  While the numbers of those who perished remains fluid depending on the one telling the story, there is no doubt that the loss of life was extensive far beyond what many imagine, easily reaching the thousands.  Their description of the day of the firestorm is vivid and disturbing in a way that leaves the reader with images that continue to haunt even after the book is finished.  In a way their book serves as a kind of memorial to the many nameless people who perished.  We will probably never know the bulk of the human loss.  For many reasons, including the lack of evidence of remains (many were burned to ash that was subsequently burned away), we can never hope to completely reconstruct this event.  Still, as the book cover testifies, this will easily remain "the deadlines fire in American history."  The book is highly recommended. 

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