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Peshtigo Fire II: Fire in Town by Mel Kishner

Sawdust Town

Late one evening in the fall of 1871, a firestorm 10 miles wide and 200 feet high bore down on the pioneer lumber town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, generating wind speeds over 100 mph and temperatures of 2,000ºF (hotter than a cremation oven). When the sun rose the next morning, the tornado of fire had incinerated 1.3 million acres of land and nearly everything on it, including 2 billion trees and as many as 2,500 men, women and children. It still ranks as the most devastating fire in American history. 

 

Florabelle Glass was 13 years old when fire came to Peshtigo.

It’s Sunday morning of 8 October

Mama made breakfast while we finished our chores

We all walked home from Sunday church

And you couldn’t see the sun in the sky no more

 

It’s been three months since the last good rain

And the forest all around us dry as hay      

The smoke’s gettin’ thicker and Daddy’s worried

He’s been diggin’ ditches ‘round the house all day 

 

Night has settled in an eerie quiet

When brother points a finger to the southwest sky 

Treetops orange and red and growing

Now I see the panic in my Daddy’s eyes

 

“Run, Florabelle, go run to the river!

Y’ain’t got time to put your shoes back on 

Run, Florabelle, run, run to the river!

Fire is coming to a sawdust town”

 

The wind’s whipping up, you can hear it coming

And I’m running as fast as my legs will go

Through panicked horses and deer and people

It’s chaos in the streets of Peshtigo 

 

“Run, Florabelle, go run to the river!

You just might make it if you don’t fall down

Run, Florabelle, run, run to the river!

Fire is coming to a sawdust town”

 

Take a right at the corner where the church is ashes

Left at the corner where my schoolhouse burns

Balls of fire rain down around me   

It’s a wild inferno everywhere I turn

 

“Run, Florabelle, go run to the river!”

The flames are nippin’ at your calico gown

Run, Florabelle, run, run to the river!

Fire is coming to a sawdust town”

 

I can’t see the water but I know I’m near it

From the splashin’ and the screamin’ and the cries of pain

Oh, my God, it’s right behind me

It must be the arrival of the devil’s train 

 

“Run, Florabelle, go run to the river!”

And don’t look behind you as it all burns down

Run, Florabelle, run, run to the river!

Fire is coming to a sawdust town”

 

“Fire is coming to a sawdust town”

 

 

© 2020 Chris Richards / White Mare Music (BMI)