johnwood1946

New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

A Dramatic Account of the Miramichi Fire

leave a comment »

From the blog at https://johnwood1946.wordpress.com

John S. Springer published the book Forest Life and Forest Trees, … Camp-Life Among the Loggers … on the Various Rivers of Maine and New Brunswick in New York in 1851. There were many commentaries and stories in the book, and this one describes the Miramichi fire of 1825.

House at Douglastown

A house at Douglastown which survived the Miramichi Fire

From the New Brunswick Provincial Archives, via NBGS Miramichi

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]

A Dramatic Account of the Miramichi Fire

The Miramichi will be remembered as the scene of one of the “most terrible natural conflagrations of which we have any record in the history of the world.” The annexed account will be found deeply interesting.

“The person who has never been out of Europe,” and, we may add, out of our cities and older portions of country in the States, “can have little conception of the fury and rapidity with which fires rage after a continuation of hot seasons in North America and New Holland, when the dry underwood and fallen leaves, in addition to the resinous quality of the timber, afford combustible materials in the greatest abundance. I have seen the side of a mountain thirty miles long burning in New Holland, and illumining the sky for many miles; but the following description by an eye-witness (Mr. Coony), of the great Miramichi fire, exceeds any thing of the kind that ever occurred.”

“The summer of 1825 was unusually warm in both hemispheres, particularly in America, where its effects were fatally visible in the prevalence of epidemical disorders. During July and August, extensive fires raged in different parts of Nova Scotia, especially in the eastern division of the peninsula. The protracted drought of the summer, acting upon the aridity of the forests, had rendered them more than naturally combustible; and this, facilitating both the dispersion and the progress of the fires that appeared in the early part of the season, produced an unusual warmth. On the 6th of October, the fire was evidently approaching New Castle; at different intervals fitful blazes and flashes were observed to issue from different parts of the woods, particularly up the northwest, at the rear of New Castle, in the vicinity of Douglasstown and Moorfields, and along the banks of the Bartibog. Many persons heard the crackling of falling trees and shriveled branches, while a hoarse, rumbling noise, not dissimilar to the roaring of distant thunder, and divided by pauses, like the intermittent discharges of artillery, was distinct and audible. On the 7th of October the heat increased to such a degree, and became so very oppressive, that many complained of its enervating effects. About twelve o’clock, a pale, sickly mist, lightly tinged with purple, emerged from the forest and settled over it.

“This cloud soon retreated before a large dark one, which, occupying its place, wrapped the firmament in a pall of vapor. This encumbrance retaining its position till about three o’clock, the heat became tormentingly sultry. There was not a breath of air; the atmosphere was overloaded; and irresistible lassitude seized the people. A stupefying dullness seemed to pervade every place but the woods, which now trembled, and rustled, and shook with an incessant and thrilling noise of explosions, rapidly following each other, and mingling their reports with a discordant variety of loud and boisterous sounds. At this time the whole country appeared to be encircled by a fiery zone, which, gradually contracting its circle by the devastation it had made, seemed as if it would not converge into a point while any thing remained to be destroyed. A little after four o’clock, an immense pillar of smoke rose, in a vertical direction, at some distance northwest of New Castle for a while, and the sky was absolutely blackened by this huge cloud; but a light northerly breeze springing up, it gradually distended, and then dissipated into a variety of shapeless mists. About an hour after, or probably at half past five, innumerable large spires of smoke, issuing from different parts of the woods, and illuminated by flames that seemed to pierce them, mounted the sky. A heavy and suffocating canopy, extending to the utmost verge of observation, and appearing more terrific by the vivid flashes and blazes that darted irregularly through it, now hung over New Castle and Douglass in threatening suspension, while showers of flaming brands, calcined leaves, ashes, and cinders seemed to scream through the growling noise that prevailed in the woods. About nine o’clock (P.M.), or shortly after, a succession of loud and appalling roars thundered through the forests. Peal after peal, crash after crash, announced the sentence of destruction. Every succeeding shock created fresh alarm; every clap came loaded with its own destructive energy. With greedy rapidity did the flames advance to the devoted scene of their ministry; nothing could impede their progress. They removed every obstacle by the desolation they occasioned, and several hundred miles of prostrate forests and smitten woods marked their devastating way.

The river, tortured into violence by the hurricane, foamed with rage, and flung its boiling spray upon the land. The thunder pealed along the vault of heaven—the lightning appeared to rend the firmament. For a moment all was still, and a deep and awful silence reigned over every thing. All nature appeared to be hushed, when suddenly a lengthened and sullen roar came booming through the forests, driving a thousand massive and devouring flames before it. Then New Castle and Douglasstown, and the whole northern side of the river, extending from Bartibog to the Nashwaak, a distance of more than one hundred miles in length, became enveloped in an immense sheet of flame that spread over nearly six thousand square miles! That the stranger may form a faint idea of the desolation and misery which no pen can describe, he must picture to himself a large and rapid river, thickly settled for one hundred miles or more on both sides of it. He must also fancy four thriving towns, two on each side of this river, and then reflect that these towns and settlements were all composed of wooden houses, stores, stables, and barns; that these barns and stables were filled with crops, and that the arrival of the fall importations had stocked the warehouses and stores with spirits, powder, and a variety of combustible articles, as well as with the necessary supplies for the approaching winter. He must then remember that the cultivated or settled part of the river is but a long, narrow strip, about a quarter of a mile wide, lying between the river and almost interminable forests, stretching along the very edge of its precincts and all around it. Extending his conception, he will see the forests thickly expanding over more than six thousand square miles, and absolutely parched into tinder by the protracted heat of a long summer.

“Let him then animate the picture by scattering countless tribes of wild animals, and hundreds of domestic ones, and even thousands of men in the interior. Having done all this, he will have before him a feeble outline of the extent, features, and general circumstances of the country which, in the course of a few hours, was suddenly enveloped in fire. A more ghastly or a more revolting picture of human misery can not well be imagined.

“The whole district of cultivated land was shrouded in the agonizing memorials of some dreadful deforming havoc. The songs of gladness that formerly resounded through it were no longer heard, for the voice of misery had hushed them. Nothing broke upon the ear but the accents of distress; the eye saw nothing but ruin, and desolation, and death. New Castle, yesterday a flourishing town, full of trade and spirit, and containing nearly one thousand inhabitants, was now a heap of smoking ruins; and Douglasstown, nearly one third of its size, was reduced to the same miserable condition. Of the two hundred and sixty houses and store-houses that composed the former, but twelve remained; and of the seventy that comprised the latter, but six were left. The confusion on board of one hundred and fifty large vessels, then lying in the Miramichi, and exposed to imminent danger, was terrible—some burned to the water’s edge, others burning, and the remainder occasionally on fire.

“Dispersed groups of half-famished, half-naked, and houseless creatures, all more or less injured in their persons, many lamenting the loss of some property, or children, or relations and friends, were wandering through the country. Of the human bodies, some were seen with their bowels protruding, others with the flesh all consumed, and the blackened skeletons smoking; some with headless trunks and severed extremities; some bodies burned to cinders, others reduced to ashes; many bloated and swollen by suffocation, and several lying in the last distorted position of convulsing torture; brief and violent was their passage from life to death, and rude and melancholy was their sepulcher—‘unknelled, unconfined, and unknown.’ The immediate loss of life was upward of five hundred beings! Thousands of wild beasts, too, had perished in the woods, and from their putrescent carcasses issued streams of effluvium and stench that formed contagious domes over the dismantled settlements. Domestic animals of all kinds lay dead and dying in different parts of the country. Myriads of salmon, trout, bass, and other fish, which, poisoned by the alkali formed by the ashes precipitated into the river, now lay dead or floundering and gasping on the scorched shores and beaches, and the countless variety of wild fowl and reptiles shared a similar fate.”

Such was the violence of the hurricane, that large bodies of ignited timber, and portions of the trunks of trees, and severed limbs, and also parts of flaming buildings, shingles, boards, &c., were hurried along through the frowning heavens with terrible velocity, outstripping the fleetest horses, spreading destruction far in the advance, thus cutting off retreat. The shrieks of the affrighted inhabitants mingling with the discordant bellowing of cattle, the neighing of horses, the howling of dogs, and the strange notes of distress and fright from other domestic animals, strangely blending with the roar of the flames and the thunder of the tornado, beggars description.

Their only means of safety was the river, to which there was a simultaneous rush, seizing whatever was buoyant, however inadequate; many attempted to effect a crossing; some succeeded; others failed, and were drowned. One woman actually seized an ox by the tail just as he plunged into the river, and was safely towed to the opposite shore. Those who were unable to make their escape across plunged into the water to their necks, and, by a constant application of water to the head while in this submerged condition, escaped the dreadful burning. In some portions of the country the cattle were nearly all destroyed. Whole crews of men, camping in the interior, and engaged in timber-making, were consumed.

Such was the awful conflagration of 1825 on the Miramichi.

Advertisements

Written by johnwood1946

May 21, 2014 at 9:27 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: