8. Thumb Fires
Wildfires destroyed huge parts of Michigan’s “thumb” in 1871 and 1881. During the first fire, many people couldn’t even make it out of their homes, and many of those who did make it to the shores of Lake Huron were drowned in the choppy lake waters. Others tried to shelter in wells, and many died there.
The 1871 fire laid the groundwork for the Great Thumb Fire of 1881 by drying out the wood that didn’t burn. At least 300 people died in the fire, and 14,000 were made destitute and homeless. Some were permanently blinded by the heat and ash, but at least one man survived thanks to a bizarre stroke of luck: He had been out hunting and had killed an elk. He managed to gut the creature, crawl inside, and escape the worst of the blaze.
The fire also precipitated the first large-scale disaster relief effort organized by the American Red Cross.