[meteorite-list] Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of 1871?
Ron Baalke baalke at zagami.jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Aug 23 13:55:27 EDT 2004
http://www.cadillacnews.com/articles/2004/08/23/news/news02.txt Could a meteorite or comet cause all the fires of 1871? By Dale Killingbeck Cadillac News (Michigan) August 23, 2004 CADILLAC - The skies around Sherman and the village of Clam Lake undoubtedly turned from blue to black. In Chicago, flames were racing through the city and in Peshtigo, Wis., people were running for their lives. Flames from the woods near Manistee invaded the town on a quiet Sunday - and people fought for their homes. Within three days of the fires, thousands were homeless, hundreds from Chicago, Wisconsin and Michigan dead, and many pioneers faced the winter without a home or crops to eat. In the month of the Perseid Meteor shower, it is interesting to ponder - could a disintegrated comet be the cause of the fires? An Upper Peninsula systems design engineer thinks so, as does a former physicist with McDonnell Douglas Corp. Consider a statement by the Detroit Post on Oct. 10, 1871: "In all parts of the state, as will be noticed by our correspondence during the past few days and also today, there are numerous fires in the wood, in many places approaching so near to towns as to endanger the towns themselves." In Holland, fire destroyed the city, in Lansing flames threatened the agricultural college and in the Thumb, farmers trying to establish homesteads soon would be diving into shallow wells to escape an inferno some newspapers dubbed: "The Fiery Fiend." Many did not escape. Fires threatened Muskegon, South Haven, Grand Rapids, Wayland and reached the outskirts of Big Rapids. A steamship passing the Manitou Islands reported they were on fire. A horror story? Yes. And so real that historic markers to the event can be found at Manistee and in the Thumb. Lots has been written about the storm of fire that killed 2,000 in Peshtigo, Wis., and the Great Chicago Fire and the fires that devastated the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Theories for the fires are many - but one thing is certain, the devouring flames showed up at the same time. Most historians point to the dry weather of the summer and the poor logging practices of the day for creating conditions ripe for a hot dry wind from the southwest that blew into the area whipping up small fires already smoldering and carrying destruction through the state. Theories for the Chicago and Michigan fires include Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocking over the lantern and then firebrands from Chicago being driven across the lake to ignite Michigan. But there is another interesting theory that continues to make the rounds on the Web and in at least one presentation by a retired physicist who worked for McDonnell Douglas Corp. In 1871, fire erupted in Chicago, Wisconsin and northern Michigan at the same time. Some believe a meteorite or comet was to blame. The Discovery Channel reported on its Web site in March a presentation by Robert Wood, a retired McDonnell-Douglas physicist, who theorizes fragments of a comet discovered in the early 1820s possibly caused the fires. Wood theorized that small pieces of frozen methane, acetylene or other high combustive materials hit the earth sparking the flames. That theory also resounds with Munising's Ken Rieli who believes he found a chunk of meteorite in the waters off the Port Sanilac shore a few years ago. "We started doing an investigation on where the meteorite came from," he said. His investigation also took him back to the Comet Biela that was discovered in 1821 and returned every six years and nine months. It was last seen in 1866 and never showed up in 1872. "It was supposed to recycle and it wasn't there," Rieli said. He questions how fires could start simultaneously in Chicago, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario. He also notes how dry summers and strong winds since have never produced a similar result in America's history. "If these are coming down like buckshot with real dry conditions ..." Rieli theorizes how flaming space rocks could have ignited fires in many places. He said he's been contacted by relatives of survivors of the Peshtigo fire who shared stories from their ancestors about seeing fire falling from the sky. Physicist Wood in his report cited eyewitness reports of spontaneous ignition and "fire balloons." Rieli said Canadian geologists found a huge impact crater 200 feet below Lake Huron in the Port Huron area in the early 1990s. He said he has a relative who participated in drilling for a water pipeline to serve the Detroit in the same area at the same depth. He said crews discovered meteorite-like rock as they bored a hole for the pipeline. "They were bringing it out and piling it up," he said. He said the rock was reformulated and either was volcanic or a meteorite. "It's another piece of evidence that the Michigan area and parts of Canada, Illinois are ground zero for an active meteor strike zone." Michigan State University's David Batch, director of the Abram's Planetarium, said he had not heard the theory before and is skeptical that a comet or meteorite could have caused the fires. Batch said meteorites that have come through the atmosphere and hit the ground are never hot when people have had the opportunity to run over to the piece of space rock immediately. "When they run over to them, there is a frost to them," he said. "There's no known evidence of a comet or a meteorite causing a fire in history." Batch said comet particles are mostly ice and would not survive to hit the ground while the meteorite only glows hot in the very outer surface as it passes through atmosphere. "It's only heated to those temperatures for a very short time," he said. "It's like the outer millimeter that is heated up. The rest of it stays cold." Rieli counters that if the meteorite chunk exceeds one pound and has enough mass, it will not cool by the time it hits the ground. "That's only true under a certain mass of rock," he said. He said the Comet Biela had to have hit an asteroid belt when it broke up around Jupiter and likely the debris carried a mixture of rock and ice when the Earth plowed through the field in October 1871. The result was hundreds of hot rocks flying through the atmosphere and in many cases striking tinder-dry woods. While residents around the state battled flames, information about the area around Cadillac, then Clam Lake, is fuzzy. The first newspaper did not start until 1872. The village began the same year as the firestorm and by October of that year there was a sawmill, hotels, a general store some boarding houses, along with other buildings, according to Judge William Peterson's "The View from Courthouse Hill." Peterson recounts near Sherman, the area between Mesick and Sherman Hill, there were numerous fires at the same time Manistee and Chicago were burning down. "It was said sparks from the fires in Wisconsin that summer or the great Chicago fire in October or the conflagration that destroyed Manistee at the same time, started a large number of fires in the Sherman area," Peterson wrote. Among the losses were a sawmill and the prosecutor's house. Rieli acknowledges his theory is controversial. His Web site is meant to spark conversation - but he believes his chunk of carbonaceous chondrite meteorite bolsters his theory. Any certainty would require more research. "It's just a present thing we are doing," he said. "People need to expand their minds."
[meteorite-list] Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of1871? 'Pro'
Sterling K. Webb kelly at bhil.com
Mon Aug 23 22:38:25 EDT 2004
Hi, Everybody! So many people have joined in the general pooh-poohing that I can't copy you all! The Web site mentioned in the article is complete trash and the "crater" is imaginary, as was pointed out years ago on this very List (not by me). Ken Rieli is a complete crackpot, and Mr. Wood appears to be a recent convert, although the newspaper article does not make it clear whether they even know of each other. But the fires are real and have been thought to require an explanation for a long time, even by non-crackpots. The literature on the subject goes back a long way. These strange fires were not restricted to the IL-WI-MI triangle centered around the southern end of Lake Michigan. Because of the slowness of communication in 1871, it was not immediately recognized that the fires of October 8, 1871 were scattered over parts of seven states and Canada and may have caused as many as 10,000 deaths. The scope of this disaster led a Minnesota Congressman, Ignatius Donnelly, to write a super-best-seller book called RAGNAROK shortly after the fires, in which he put forth the Comet Biela theory. RAGNAROK was so financially successful that Donnelly quit Congress to write more books including one in which he invents the modern whacko concept of Atlantis, a trick that made him even more money. So the first question is: does the simultaneous outbreak of a number of very bad fires over a large area after a dry summer require any special explanation? Common sense says no, hence the large number of responses going pooh-pooh to this retired engineer who's reviving a 130-year-old crackpot theory, with his own twist: frozen methane, which unfortunately for his theory will not start fires, but only create, well, you know what. However, the characteristics of these fires are so abnormal that from the very day they occurred they have been considered mysterious. Peshtigo was a town of mills and factories, 4 hotels, 15 stores, and 360 homes, and a total population of 2000 people. In minutes, 1152 people died. The conditions were hot, dry, and WINDLESS. The same conditions prevailed at all the sites of the 1871 fires. Stone buildings were reduced to calcinated ash. One large house was observed to burst into flame and rise 85 feet in the air on its own updraft. Large numbers of victims had no burns or injuries; they simply suffocated in the oxygenless air (a demonstration, by the way, that this was not a fire accelerated by wind). The largest number of survivors escaped into the woods surrounding the town (demonstrating that was not a forest fire). A total of nine towns in four Wisconsin counties were essentially exterminated at the same time. In one town of 260, the death rate was 100%; no one survived. What happened in Peshtigo remained a "mystery" until after World War II. All the evidence and survivor testimony suggests it was a "firestorm," a non-natural phenomenon which was employed as a weapon of war (once discovered by accident). The creation of a firestorm requires a concentrated stock of combustibles (a city), hot dry windless weather, and the simultaneous application of a large number, many thousands, of ignition sources. As a weapon of war, it is actually more devastating than nuclear weaponry (my opinion). "Successful" firestorm attacks in 1945 killed 85,000 people in Hamburg (the accident that, once explained, showed what a firestorm was), a quarter million people in Dresden, and nearly a million people in Tokyo. (Humans can always improve on things, can't they?) A firestorm is a multi-sourced fire so rapidly ignited over a large area of combustibles that temperature in the core region rises to thousands of degrees in minutes. The "updrafts" from this heat source achieve vertical velocities of hundreds of miles per hour. As a result, cool (heavy) oxygenated air from all directions is drawn inward at ground level at high speeds (50 to 100 mph) toward, but never reaching, the radiant core, the oxygen being totally depleted at the "firewall" or flame front before the core is reached. Firestorms spread upwind, that is, in all directions outward from the core, the "firewall" being the boundary between oxygenated and de-oxygenated air. The continuous influx of oxygen is the key; given enough radiant heat and oxygen, ANYTHING will burn. The mechanism is self-sustaining until every fuel source in the ever-expanding core (including the less familiar ones like stone, brick, some metals, and people) is exhausted. I'm not going to detail the more bizarre and Dantesque characteristics of a firestorm -- go read some history. But the key point for this discussion is the fact that a firestorm is not a natural phenomenon. It simply cannot happen unless human beings make it happen, as far as we know. The scale, speed, temperatures, and destruction produced by firestorms are without parallel in so-called "natural" events. They are an order of magnitude (or two or three) out of the ordinary. But so are the fires of 1871. Nothing like them has happened before or since, no matter how many "dry summers" there have been. Early attempts to start firestorms using only 2000 to 3000 incendiary devices dropped simultaneously failed. It takes 8000 (usually) or more. Interestingly enough, early nuclear weapons dropped on cities were not enough to get a really good firestorm going. So you can see how hard it is to start one. Peshtigo was overshadowed by the "Great" Chicago Fire (which happened at the same time) even though more people were killed at little Peshtigo than at Chicago. Careful examination of the reports indicates clearly that both "fires" were firestorms. In Chicago, a "solid wall" of fire advanced "upwind" in the face of a 40 mph wind (forced oxygenation and radiative acceleration), buildings blocks from any visible flames burst into flame instantaneously (radiative ignition), and ingots of iron stored on the banks of the Chicago river downtown melted and ran into the river (requires temperatures in excess of 2700 degrees F). These are all definitive of a firestorm. You can forget the one-cow theory. You can forget the 10,000-arsonists theory. In Peshtigo, the first event those who were awake agreed on was a blinding aerial flash, a thunderous detonation, hundreds or thousands of sudden little fires springing up everywhere, and the slow inrush of that terrible wind that turned their little town into a furnace in a time frame too brief for most of the inhabitants to escape. There are (but not universally) similar reports from everywhere these fires occurred. October 8 is the date of the now-weak Draconid meteor shower (or was in the 1870's). The source of the Draconids is Comet Giaccobi-Zinner. This comet was one of the first to be observed by a passing spacecraft. It's shape is a "pancake" whose equatorial diameter is five times its polar diameter. It is rotationally disrupted and material at the equator of the comet is virtually weightless. This disruption (which has to have been sudden and not progressive) has to have occurred very recently since the comet is dissipating rapidly and would be gone already if the disruption had happened very long ago. The radiant in Draconis is always above the horizon if you're far enough north. The terminus of the longest grazing path for Draconids (which would be the orbit of the heaviest fragments with the highest velocities) lies at 45 degrees north latitude (Peshtigo, Chicago, Michigan). A multitude of clusters of comet fragments air-bursting would produce a simultaneous barrage of Tunguska-like events with sufficient thermal output to produce numerous ignitions at ground zero. The date, 1871, is before the invention and deployment of either seismographs or barographs, so no evidence of these air-bursts would have been obtained as they were in the case of Tunguska. The case for the fires of 1871 has to be evaluated on the basis of the evidence. That's my "explanation" of the 1871 fires, scientifically feasible, I think, and boy! do I hate it when another crackpot comes along with an inferior crackpot theory, particularly when he stole his theory from a crazy dead Congressman! It makes all us crackpots look bad! On the other hand, isn't a story like "Citizen Steals From Congressman!" a little like the classic "Man Bites Dog!"? Sterling K. Webb
[meteorite-list] Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of 1871? 'Con'
Paul H bristolia at yahoo.com
Tue Aug 24 12:26:49 EDT 2004
In Could A Meteorite or Comet Cause All The Fires of 1871? http://six.pairlist.net/pipermail/meteorite-list/2004-August/143245.html Sterling K. Webb wrote: "These strange fires were not restricted to the IL-WI-MI triangle centered around the southern end of Lake Michigan. Because of the slowness of communication in 1871, it was not immediately recognized that the fires of October 8, 1871 were scattered over parts of seven states and Canada and may have caused as many as 10,000 deaths." I would be interested to know where the claim that the fire actually started in seven states and Canada simultaneously. From what I seen written in well- researched books on the 1871 fire, i.e. "Michigan On Fire" by Betty Sodders in 1997, the fact of the matter is that fires outside IL-WI-MI area were occurring and started well before October 8 and had been occurring all Fall because of the hot and dry weather that had created a drought that was devastating in its own right. If a person looks at the historical record, he or she would find that it is an absolute misrepresentation of it in stating that these fires all started simultaneously with the October 8 fire. The so-called "instantaneous" / "simultaneous" nature of the fire, from what I have seen, is pure fiction created by shoddy research and wishful thinking on the part of advocates of the comet impact theory, who seem to be rather ill-informed of the actual chronology of forest fires in 1871. For example, a person can read "The Fire that Destroyed Holland, Michigan" at: http://www.geo.msu.edu/geo333/holland%20fire/hollandfire1.html In terms of the so-called "simultaneous" nature of the 1871 fire, the web page noted: "There had already been a threat of danger earlier in the week. Fires kept smoldering and burned barns and houses, but the danger seemed to be far from the city. Then on Sunday, October 9, there were reports that a threatening forest fire was coming." and "The community at the time was populated with 2400 residents and for many days previous, these residents had battled and beaten many small fires that had erupted throughout the town." It is quite clear that fires were starting within the area of the 1871 fire days, even weeks, before October 8. The fire of 1871 simply didn't magically appear on October 8, 1871 out of nowhere but was preceded by numerous smaller fires days, even weeks, before it occurred. Even more interesting comments about the 1871 fire can be found in "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan". at: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10367_11851-24038--,00.html This web page stated: "It was not a single fire but a combination of hundreds of fires, small and large, that had been burning unattended for weeks, only to flare up and unite when conditions became acute." This statement totally demolishes the case for a meteorite or comet, as the 1871 didn't start on Oct.8, 1871. Rather the "1871 fire" on October 8 occurred when it exploded into a firestorm when fires only after burning for days, even weeks, before that date. Oct 8 was simply the point that these fires, as they coalesced, exceeded the critical mass needed to explode into massive firestorm. The historical record also clearly demonstrates the source of these fires. For example, the "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan" web page stated: "Set carelessly or by settlers in clearing land, fires burned everywhere, and ran uncontrolled into the woods and swamps where they continued to smolder." Also, the "The Fire that Destroyed Holland, Michigan" web page stated: "In the fall of 1871, the ground was very dry after the long summer. The summer had been very hot and dry and some areas hadn't had rain since June. In Holland, fires began in the piles of sawdust, waste wood, and finished lumber in the yards of the city's several sawmills, and the winds quickly spread the flames throughout the town. The small spark ignited the piles of wood and spread to become one of Michigan's most widespread forest fire." These quotes point out the fact that that Michigan was having problems with outbreaks of smaller fires, weeks before October 8. The fire simply didn't magically, simultaneously start on that date, but rather innumerable small fires, which had been burning for weeks before October 8, came together on that date. The fact that smaller fires were burning many days prior to October 8 refutes the claim that everything simultaneously burst into flame on that date and the so-called anomalous nature of the fire. It is quite obvious that long before October 8, this region was having major problems with outbreaks of multiple, ongoing fires. The "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan" stated: "Michigan was extensively logged toward the end of the 19th century. The White Pine that had once covered Michigan was cut, followed by the hardwood forests, and large expanses of slash (the branches and other debris left after logging) were left behind. Many areas were cleared for farming, and the vegetation was burned to dispose of it. Several catastrophic fires resulted from the indiscriminate burning of slash following logging and land clearing for agriculture." and "In the summer of 1871, a drought occurred over much of the Great Lakes region. Slash and debris from logging and land clearing became tinder-dry during the months without rain. From early August no rain fell, pastures and gardens dried up, wells went dry, streams shrank to a mere trickle, and crops failed." These conditions, i.e. the abundance of fuel, created by careless logging techniques and forest land management; the hot and dry weather and massive drought; and the careless use of fire to clear land made for an ideal situation for the development of a catastrophic fire. In fact, a fire similar in magnitude to the 1871 fire occurred tens years later in September of 1881 in the Thumb area of Michigan. It was more serve, caused more damage, and made more people to be homeless than the 1871 fire. About the 1881 fire, the "History & Ecology of Fire in Michigan Wildland Fire In Michigan" stated: "Like the 1871 fire, the fire of 1881 came at the end of an extremely severe drought and was the result of hundreds of land-clearing fires whipped into a seething cauldron of flame by high winds." This discussion reminds me of a "mysterious" sinking of the Sandra that allegedly sank in a calm sea without any distress signal as described by Charles Berlitz in his book "The Bermuda Triangle". When Larry Kusche looked into this disappearance, he found that the ship as half as long as the book stated and it disappeared in the middle of a hurricane. In this case, as in the 1871 fires, the mystery disappears when the misinformation and folklore is replaced by documented facts. Yours, Paul Baton Rouge, LA __________________________________________________