Thumb Fire

Last updated

The Thumb Fire took place on September 5, 1881, in the Thumb area of Michigan in the United States [1] . The fire, which burned over a million acres (4,000 km²) in less than a day, was the consequence of drought, hurricane-force winds, heat, the after-effects of the Port Huron Fire of 1871, and the ecological damage wrought by the era's logging techniques.


The blaze, also called the Great Thumb Fire, the Great Forest Fire of 1881 and the Huron Fire, killed 282 people in Sanilac, Lapeer, Tuscola and Huron counties. The damage estimate was $2,347,000 [2] in 1881, equivalent to $62,179,314 when adjusted for inflation.

The fire sent enough soot and ash up into the atmosphere that sunlight was partially obscured at many locations on the East Coast of the United States. In New England cities, the sky appeared yellow and projected a strange luminosity onto buildings and vegetation. Twilight appeared at 12 noon. September 6, 1881 immediately became known as Yellow Tuesday or Yellow Day due to the ominous nature of this atmospheric event. [3]


August and the first days of September 1881 were hotter than usual, [4] and the Thumb had had a rain deficit since April; in Thornville, this period was the driest registered up to 1969. [5] There were forest fires beginning in mid-August, and on August 31, a fire started in northern Lapeer County. It destroyed several buildings in Sandusky and Deckerville in nearby Sanilac County. On Monday, September 5, the town of Bad Axe, in Huron County, burst into flames. Winds spread the fire to Huron City and Grindstone City. The fire continued to spread through Tuesday and Wednesday, September 6 and 7, consuming most of Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac and Lapeer counties. [6]

Relief aid

In 1881 Clara Barton, at the age of 60, founded the American Red Cross. The organization's first official disaster relief operation was its response to the Michigan "Thumb Fire" of 1881. The Red Cross provided money, clothes and household items. [7] The fire caused more than 14,000 people to be dependent on public aid. It also destroyed over 2000 barns, dwellings, and schools.

Fire protection

After the fires of 1881, people started to organize firefighting plans. By the 1900s the timber barons were suffering huge losses due to forest fires, so they developed the Northern Forest and Protection Association to manage forest fires in Michigan; it was later superseded by the US Forest Service. [8] However, the Ford Motor Company, which owned large areas of forest, had already established serious conservation and cleanup methods, along with maintaining their own fire watchtowers and timber patrols, in order to discover fires soon after their starts. [8] Firefighting started with man vs. nature; fires would erupt and burn until they ran out of fuel sources or were extinguished by rain. The early settlers used bucket brigades to protect their houses and barns, but they were no match for the raging fires. It was not until 1917 that Michigan purchased its first tractor for firefighting.

See also

Related Research Articles

Tuscola County, Michigan U.S. county in Michigan

Tuscola County is a county in the Thumb region of the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the population was 55,729. The county seat is Caro. The county was created by Michigan Law on April 1, 1840, from land in Sanilac County and attached to Saginaw County for administrative purposes. The Michigan Legislature passed an act on March 2, 1850, that empowered the county residents to organize governmental functions.

Sanilac County, Michigan U.S. county in Michigan

Sanilac County is a largely rural county located in the Thumb region of the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the population was 43,114. The county seat is Sandusky. The county was created on September 10, 1822, and was fully organized on December 31, 1849

Lapeer County, Michigan U.S. county in Michigan

Lapeer County is a county located in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the population was 88,319. The county seat is Lapeer. The county was created on September 18, 1822, and was fully organized on February 2, 1835. The name is a corruption of the French la pierre, which means "the flint".

Huron County, Michigan U.S. county in Michigan

Huron County is a rural county in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the population was 33,118. The county seat is Bad Axe. Huron County is at the northern tip of the Thumb, which is a sub region of Mid Michigan. It is a peninsula, bordered by Saginaw Bay to the west and Lake Huron to the north and east, and has over 90 miles (140 km) of shoreline, from White Rock on Lake Huron to Sebewaing on the Saginaw Bay. Huron County's most important industry is agriculture, as with most of the other Thumb counties. Huron County enjoys seasonal tourism from large cities such as Detroit, Flint, and Saginaw.

M-25 is a state trunkline highway in the US state of Michigan. The route follows an arc-like shape closely along the Lake Huron shore of the Thumb in the eastern Lower Peninsula between Port Huron and Bay City. It serves the lakeshore resorts along Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay and generally lies within sight of the lake and the bay. All is surface road and generally scenic, except for the freeway segment near the junction with Interstate 75 (I-75) and connection into the US Highway 10 (US 10) freeway.

Omar D. Conger American politician

Omar Dwight Conger was a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan.

The Thumb region of eastern Michigan

The Thumb is a region and a peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan, so named because the Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. The Thumb area is generally considered to be in the Central Michigan region, located east of the Tri-Cities, and north of Metro Detroit. The region is also branded as the Blue Water Area of Michigan.

John Treadway Rich American politician

John Treadway Rich was a U.S. Representative from and the 23rd Governor of the US state of Michigan.

M-46 is an east–west state trunkline highway in the US state of Michigan between Muskegon and Port Sanilac, terminating near Lake Michigan and Lake Huron on each end. Except for the north–south segment that corresponds with the US Highway 131 (US 131) freeway between Cedar Springs and Howard City, M-46 is practically a due east–west surface highway. The road runs through rural sections of the Lower Peninsula connecting several freeways including US 31, US 131, US 127 and Interstate 75 (I-75).

James G. OHara American politician (1925-1989)

James Grant O'Hara was a soldier and politician from the U.S. state of Michigan, serving as U.S. Representative from 1959 to 1977.

Cass River (Michigan) river in the United States of America

The Cass River is a 61.5-mile-long (99.0 km) river in the Thumb region of the U.S. state of Michigan. It drains large portions of Sanilac and Tuscola counties and smaller portions of Genesee, Huron, Lapeer, and Saginaw counties.

Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park Park in Michigan, USA

Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic State Park is a state park in the U.S. state of Michigan. The park, also known as ezhibiigadek asin consists of 240 acres (97 ha) in Greenleaf Township, Sanilac County, in Michigan's Thumb. It contains the largest collection of Native American petroglyphs in Michigan. The carvings were created in the pre-Columbian era and represents aspects of Native American spiritually. There is also an interpretive hiking trail within the park along the nearby Cass River.

Michigans 10th congressional district U.S. House district in eastern lower Michigan

Michigan's 10th congressional district is a United States congressional district in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, covering a region known as the Thumb. It consists of all of Huron, Lapeer, St. Clair, and Sanilac counties, as well as most of northern Macomb County and eastern Tuscola County.

Central Michigan Lower Peninsula of Michigan in the United States

Mid Michigan, also called Central Michigan, is a region in the Lower Peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan. As its name implies, it is the middle area of the Lower Peninsula. Lower Michigan is said to resemble a mitten, and Mid Michigan corresponds roughly to the thumb and palm, stretching from Michigan's eastern shoreline along Lake Huron into the fertile rolling plains of the Michigan Basin. The region contains cities of moderate size, including Flint, Saginaw, and the state capital of Lansing.

Michigans 7th congressional district U.S. House district in southeast lower Michigan

Michigan's 7th congressional district is a United States congressional district in Southern Michigan. From 2004 to 2013 it consisted of all of Branch, Eaton, Hillsdale, Jackson, and Lenawee counties, and included most of Calhoun and a large portion of western and northern Washtenaw counties. The district shifted east in the 2012 redistricting, and now includes the western suburbs of Ann Arbor and Monroe County.

Michigans 8th congressional district U.S. House district centered on Lansing, Michigan

Michigan's 8th congressional district is a United States congressional district in Southern Michigan and Southeast Michigan, including almost all of the state capital, Lansing. From 2003 to 2013 it consisted of all of Clinton, Ingham, and Livingston counties, and included the southern portion of Shiawassee and the northern portion of Oakland counties. After the redistricting that resulted from the 2010 Census, the district was shifted south to no longer cover Clinton or Shiawassee counties and instead covers more of Oakland County, including Rochester.

The Port Huron Fire of October 8, 1871 burned a number of cities including White Rock and Port Huron, and much of the countryside in the "Thumb" region of the U.S. state of Michigan.

The Great Michigan Fire was a series of simultaneous forest fires in the state of Michigan in the United States in 1871. They were possibly caused by the same winds that fanned the Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire and the Port Huron Fire; some believe lightning or even meteor showers may have started the fires. Several cities, towns and villages, including Alpena, Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, suffered serious damage or were lost. The concurrent Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin also destroyed several towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Huron and Eastern Railway

Huron and Eastern Railway is a short line railroad operating 394 miles (634 km) of track in The Thumb and Flint/Tri-Cities area of the lower peninsula of Michigan. It is currently owned by Genesee & Wyoming, Inc., who purchased it from RailAmerica in 2012. Its headquarters is in the former Michigan Central Railroad depot in Vassar, Michigan.

Water and Woods Field Service Council

Water and Woods Field Service Council is a field service council of the Michigan Crossroads Council that serves youth in the central and northeastern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The Council is headquartered in Flint, Michigan with service centers located in Auburn, Lansing, and Port Huron. The Water and Woods Field Service Council is the result of a merger in 2012 of Lake Huron Area Council, Blue Water Council, Tall Pine Council and Chief Okemos Council.


  1. "The Great Fire of 1881: How the Thumb survived". Huron Daily Tribune. 2003-09-22. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
  2. Nesbit, Joanne. “Michigan History Series”. U-M News and Information Services.Aug. 29, 1996. Oct. 10, 2007 <>
  3. Yellow Day at
  4. Haines & Sando 1969, p. 8
  5. Haines & Sando 1969, p. 6
  6. Moore, Charles (1915). History of Michigan, Vol. I, pp. 525–28. The Lewis Publishing Company.
  7. Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
  8. 1 2 Sodders, Betty (1997). Michigan on Fire, pp. 239–40. Thunder Bay Press.


Coordinates: 43°48′N83°00′W / 43.8°N 83.0°W / 43.8; -83.0