Michigan History: The Great Thumb Fire of 1881
Back in the Thumb of Michigan on this day in 1881, the American Red Cross provided disaster relief for the first time. That disaster was the Great Thumb Fire of Michigan or the Thumb Fire.
The fire burned over a million acres and took at least 300 lives. It was the result of a perfect storm of drought, hurricane-force winds, and heat, according to Wikipedia. Click here to see the full story.
According to the Wikipedia article:
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.
Though the fire was horribly destructive, there was some good that came from it. For one thing, it lead to the beginning of the US Forest Service. It also gave the Red Cross, which had only been formed three weeks prior, its first chance to provide disaster relief.
The founder of the American Red Cross, 60-year-old Clara Barton, started collecting household supplies, clothing and money to bring to people affected by the disaster. According to the University of Michigan's Michigan History Series, the fire forced 14,000 people to become dependent on public aid and destroyed 1,480 barns, 1,521 dwellings and 51 schools.
If you would like to read more about the fire, check out this article in The Huron Daily Tribune.