“Wake up! The end of the world is coming!” Mrs. Amelia “Stoney” Desrochers recalled her mother shouting when she was only five years old. The blaze reached their home at about 9 p.m.
“There had been fires all along. The men had been fighting them,” Desrocher said. “One night a terrible wind storm came, and the sky got very red.”
“A lot of people perished because they thought it was the end of the world. They got tired of fighting the fire and gave up,” she said.
But her family would not give up the fight. Her mother woke up the children, and Desrochers remembered putting on her shoes, forgetting her stockings.
“When we went out, the wind was blowing the sand so hard that it punched my limbs,” she said. “People told us to go to the river. A man at the bridge ordered us to get aboard a flat-bottomed barge on the river.”
But as the boat traveled down the river, it caught fire, and many jumped out and drowned. Desrochers remembered telling her mother as she looked out the boat’s window, “Look, it’s snowing fire three miles out in the bay.”
“On our way back after the fire died down, we passed a place where there were many dead people laid out on blankets by the river bank,” said Desrochers. “Besides them was a little baby crying—I’ll never forget that.”
Desrochers lived her entire life in the Peshtigo area. She and another survivor, Wesley Duket, spent their last years at the Eklund Convalescent Home and occasionally met to reminisce.
Story courtesy Peshtigo Times. Can be found in the special edition “Remembering the Peshtigo Fire,” available for purchase at the Fire Museum.