I realized this morning that many of our friends and family are not aware of the upcoming remembrance on Monday October 8th of the Miracle of the Fire, and thought you might be interested.
The Miracle of the Fire occurred on October 8, 1871, at what is now the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, which is here in Northeast Wisconsin. If you haven’t heard of the Shrine, it is the first and only site in the United States that the Catholic Church has approved as having had authentic Marian apparitions. It was approved in December of 2010. In its entire history since the time of Christ, the Catholic Church has approved less than 25 sites throughout the world as having had authentic apparitions of Our Lady, including sites like Fatima, Lourdes, Our Lady of Gaudalope and Our Lady of Good Help.
The Miracle of the Fire occurred at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. Every year the Shrine holds a remembrance of the miraculous event in which the lives of the congregation and local farmers were spared in the middle of the worst fire ever recorded in the history of the United States.
The Shine is located geographically in the midst of the area burned in the Peshtigo Fire, which covered 1,875 square miles. Only one location within that area wasn’t seared to ashes: The Shrine. Temperatures, at times, within the region that burned during the Peshtigo Fire were estimated at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Manhattan Project scientists working to build the first atomic bomb actually studied the Peshtigo Fire to understand better what happened at the ground level because it was as intense as an atomic blast. Nothing else like it had ever happened that scientists could examine to predict how an atomic bomb might act at ground level.
The Shrine should have been totally consumed by the fire; there is no science that can explain how it and the people who fled there for safety survived.
By the time the fire was over, those 1,875 square miles (1.2 million acres) of forest, farms and towns had been consumed, in total an area approximately twice the size of Rhode Island. Some sources list that as many as 1.5 million acres burned. Twelve communities were entirely destroyed. An accurate death toll has never been determined since local population records were destroyed in the fire. At least 1,200 and possibly as many as 2,500 people lost their lives in one night. The 1873 Report to the Wisconsin Legislature listed 1,182 names of deceased or missing residents known to have lived within the area consumed by the fire. Peshtigo alone had an estimated 1,700 residents before the fire. In addition to the identified dead from Peshtigo, more than 350 bodies from Peshtigo were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that no one remained who could identify them. Many bodies that were searched for throughout the area where the fire raged were never found because the remains were immolated in the fire.
The fire was so intense it jumped several miles over the waters of Green Bay and burned parts of the Door Peninsula, as well as jumping the Peshtigo River itself to burn on both sides of the town of Peshtigo. Surviving witnesses reported that the firestorm generated a tornado of fire that threw rail cars and houses into the air. Many of the survivors of the firestorm escaped the flames by immersing themselves in the Peshtigo River, wells, or other bodies of water. Many, however, who sought refuge in water drowned, while others succumbed to hypothermia in the frigid river The river itself, although so cold at the bottom it caused hypothermia, was reported by survivors in some places to have became so hot at the surface that it boiled. Others who made it to bodies of water died from inhaling the superheated air which fatally damaged their lungs.
When the wall of fire, estimated to have reached several thousand feet in height at times, approached Robinsonville (now renamed Champion), the location of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Sister Adele (who had received apparitions and locutions from Our Lady), the Sisters, children who attended the Chapel’s school, area farmers and their families fled to the Shrine for protection. The Shrine’s statue of Mary was raised reverently by the Sisters and they processed around inside the five-acre boundaries of the Chapel grounds praying the rosary. Though the fire raged entirely around the chapel, with its incredible heat, and suffocating air that obliterated almost two thousand square miles, burning and singing even the outsides of the posts of the fence that surrounded the chapel grounds, nothing and no one inside the tiny five to six acres that made up the chapel grounds was harmed.
You can read a little more at the Shrine’s website about the Miracle of the Fire, as well as read about other events that have happened at the Shrine.
Also, I recommend reading a short article with an eyewitness acount from a survivor of the events surrounding the Miracle of the Fire published in the Green Bay diocese’s official newspaper, the Compass.
For general information about the Peshtigo fire, you can find links to tens of thousands of pages with this Google search.
Please join in with your prayers on Monday to remember the anniversary of the Miracle of the Fire.
(Pictured above: the actual altar at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, photographed in December, 2011)