By Charles Towne                        

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you
saying: ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’ “ (Isaiah 30: 21)

We were fighting forest fire in Northern Michigan. For three days we dug fire breaks only to have the fire sweep around us. We would have to retreat only to begin all over again.
It seemed that our lungs would burst from breathing the super heated air. We worked endlessly with bandanas covering our noses and mouths and at times the smoke would swirl around us and we would be forced to run for our lives, choking and gasping, tears streaming from smoke reddened eyes. There was never enough water and when we were relieved we slept like dead men.

On the evening of the fourth day the fire was stopped, but not by us. It rained, and it rained and it rained. That fire didn’t have a chance, and without the rain, neither did we.

I walked over the area which had been lush forest only days before, nothing green remained, nothing but a blackened, fire blighted land lay around me. I heard a sound and followed it to its source to discover a black bear cub, horribly burned. I ended its agony with a bullet.

A while later, I crossed a trout stream and found it to be choked with the debris and ash from the fire. Dozens of trout floated belly up in the stream that only days before had been a fly fisherman’s dream.

Over the years I was to fight forest fires several more times, but never again did I see the devastation that I witnessed that first time.


October 8, 1871 was a date that was literally burned into history when the fourth largest city in the nation was, for all practical purposes, destroyed by fire. At that time, Chicago had a population of 350,000 citizens and was growing rapidly. On October 8 a fire started.

There were those that believed the fire was caused by Mrs. O’Leary’s much maligned cow. Mrs. O’Leary objected to the defamation of her cow’s character and blamed the fire on ‘communist incendiaries’. No one will ever know the real cause, but the affect has been well documented.

The city burned for two days and was finally extinguished by torrential rain showers. More than a third of the city’s population was left homeless; between 18,000 and 19,000 buildings were destroyed and 200 people were either dead or missing. Over 50,000 people left the city believing that Chicago would never be rebuilt. By some estimates, the city suffered $200,000,000 in property loss.

But who can judge the human spirit? Those who left were wrong, for within a year a
new Chicago rose from the ashes of the old, and within three years not a trace
remained of the disaster.

Yes, everyone has heard of the great Chicago fire… after all, it is part of our nation’s history.

But how many have heard of Peshtigo?

On the same night that a third of Chicago was destroyed, another fire swept through the thriving village of Peshtigo, Wisconsin and resulted in what some have considered, in terms of loss of human life, the greatest natural disaster our country has ever suffered.

Due to drought conditions which had persisted for some time, the forest was tinder dry in the Green Bay area of Wisconsin. It seemed fires at times sprang up from spontaneous combustion. People became accustomed to the wild fires, and these raging fires were allowed to burn themselves out. After all, little could be done.

Peshtigo was a booming lumbering community with a population of 2000 and home for the largest woodenware factory in the United States.

On October 7, 1871 the night was lit by an orange glow which seemed to reach into the very heavens over Peshtigo. And on October 8, the fire struck the town just as it did Chicago. As Chicago burned, so did the small Wisconsin community, only with a few notable differences.

While a third of Chicago was burned, the entire village of Peshtigo was destroyed. Only one house was left standing. But the fire’s greatest claim to fame, or infamy if you will, was the loss of life. By some estimates, as many as 1200 people perished in the flames as Peshtigo was consumed.

There were countless stories of heroism, as well as cowardice. Virtually not a family was untouched by the fire, and in fact entire families perished. There is no way to ascertain how many people actually died.

Out of this tragedy, I would like to share three stories of humanity, of deliverance,
and of hope.

Story one:

Some distance from Peshtigo, a mill owner rallied his two brothers to save their sawmill from the fire storm rushing toward them. This mill owner, our hero, was a rough and tumble giant of a man who was as apt to kick a door down as open it. He was also known for his blasphemous ways. He and his brothers climbed to the roof of the mill and proceeded to try and beat out the fires that caught in the dry shingles. At last, realizing the futility of their efforts, the mill owner stopped fighting the fire and glared defiantly into the heavens. Shaking his fist at God, whom he had denied existed, he shouted, “Well, TAKE the place if you want it so bad!”

Just as he realized his helplessness, as he stood there gazing into the fire-brightened heavens, something wet touched his cheek. Rain! It had begun to rain! His mill was saved! The big, coarse, blasphemous lumberjack fell to his knees there on the roof of his sawmill and he tried to pray…except he didn’t know how… so he did the next best thing. He jumped to his feet, and waving his hat in the air he shouted at the top of his lungs, “HURRAH FOR GOD! HURRAH FOR GOD!”

Story two: 

A mother, fleeing the flames, was overtaken by several others possessed of the same inspiration. One of these, a man realizing the futility of their flight, encouraged the group to lie down in a shallow ditch at the side of the road and take advantage of what scant protection it provided. Some carried blankets which they spread over their backs to protect them from the hail of sparks and wind blown burning embers. Suddenly there was a scream from the mother, “Oh my God, my baby, where is my baby?” For you see, the bundle she carried was nothing more than a bundle of blankets. In her flight, the baby had slipped from her grasp.

The man looked around hoping to see the infant, but what he saw caused him to shout out in consternation causing the others to look. The air was filled with smoke and ash, the flames were all around them; the very sky appeared to be on fire. As they watched, huge trees seemed to ignite before the fire even touched them. But the thing that caused them to weep with frustration was that the baby, the tiny helpless infant, lay in the center of the narrow road, completely exposed to the fire. To go to the infant was certain death. The flames seemed to meet in a fiery arch over the tiny form. And now, those in the ditch were forced to restrain the grief-stricken mother as they concentrated on their own survival. When the fire passed, the survivors went with the mother to recover the infant’s body. And what did they find? A dead child? No! The baby was alive!

Those who had taken refuge in the ditch and covered themselves with blankets had all suffered some burns, but the baby had suffered no injury. Not a hair on the infant’s head was singed.

Story three: 

A group of men digging a firebreak beyond the village found themselves cut off and surrounded by flames. Some, frightened beyond reason, were beyond themselves with fear. They rushed around the clearing frantically searching for an escape, but there was none. Some were cursing God for not helping them. Chaos reigned over the scene.

Soon, as the flames drew close, one by one the men dropped to their knees in prayer. Suddenly a voice was heard above the roar of the fire: “Come this way! Hurry! THERE IS YET TIME TO ESCAPE! Come, hurry!”

With great hope the men rushed in the direction of the voice, and as they approached what appeared to be a solid wall of flames, the fire seemed to diminish. They passed through to a large clearing, and all were saved. They looked and searched for their rescuer, but there was no one there.

But I believe, Father God, the Pursuer of our souls was there. In each of these stories, I believe He is the one who was the true Hero.

God doesn’t save just to save our hides; no, He saves to save our souls. Out of the fire that threatens to consume us, He calls, and He becomes our Holy guide. He will take us safely beyond the fire in His way, His time, leading us to safety now, and for eternity.



Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.


  1. I love that story of stories!
    It was heart-touching and happy
    to see each problem solved by, obviously, the hand of God! I found myself thanking Him for helping those in each situation, even though I did not know them.
    I was just so overjoyed that His hand of mercy was on them because His heart of love cared so deeply about them. It is unbelievably amazing at how much God loves us and cares about every little detail in our lives!
    Thanks Chuck, for a wonderful story of stories. It was uplifting to
    my heart!! God bless you!

  2. That to my way of thinking is what God is really like though isn’t it CSG. What a wonderful friend He is! It makes me marvel when I see His wonderful loving hand at work in my own sinners heart, changing and transforming me into an instrument that He can use to draw other’s to Him! Praise Him from who all blessings flow! Bless you and yours CSG. Chaz

  3. Thank you for your inspiration and beautifully written words-of-wisdom! Keep them coming……We all need HOPE these days!

  4. Dear NH, i believe that as christians what we need more than hope is belief and trust in the life giver. If you are blessed in any way give praise to Him for His word tells us that ALL good things come from Him. Bless you folks in all ways, Chaz

  5. Mr. Charles, I really liked your story and it leaves a relief in my soul, since I feel that God is always with us and even more in those moments where we believe every thing is lost.
    Thank you for sharing such beautiful stories. God always bless you.

  6. Dear Magaly, it pleases me so very much to know that my feeble efforts have touched your heart in such a way. May Papa God bless you and all of your family is my most sincere prayer, your brother in Jesus, Chaz

  7. A great story and history lesson combined to remind us how important our faith in God needs to be in trying times. Very timely given our current situation. God less you Chuck for your inspiration every week. Stay safe my friend.

  8. Dear Mike, bless you and yours my friend. I am so greatly touched by the fact that you appreciate my writings. How in the world can Ppa God impact the lives of others by the written word is beyond me and I ask for your prayers that we can all be faithful to our calling. Thanks pal, Chaz

  9. I love those amazing stories that show the amazing power of God. He is truly the shelter for those who seek Him…and also for those who don’t! If we will just recognize His amazing love, we would find a lot more to praise Him for and a whole lot more peace!

    • Faithy, can you imagine following Jesus and being present when He performed just one of his miracles! To see Lazarus come from the tomb at Jesus bidding, To be there as our Lord talked to Nicodemus, or watch as Jesus cast the demons from the Demoniac or see our Lord walk on water or hear Him as he calls your name? Each and every day Jesus spent on this earth was a miracle. Praise God,and bless you. Chaz

  10. Wow! What a story. You know my belief i G-D. He works miracles every moment and your story show brings out three of them. Thank you so much for such a wonderful read. Thank you so much for such a wonderful and uplifting read.

  11. Herb, the miracles that He is working all around each of us on a daily basis overwhem me. That the stories I relate can touch our hearts is miraculous in their own right. Bless you folks, Chaz

  12. Dear Dear Charlitos !!! Always giving your Beautiful Hearts writing for all, Little Brother … Always GOD gives us Miracles every single moment and sometimes we appreciate. Sometimes not. But we love Him and He protect Us. Love U …

  13. My friend Leo, Yes, if our eyes could see it, if our hearts could sense it there are miracles happening around us and for us and in us, each and every day. Bless you dear friend, Chaz

  14. Charles, Excellent. I had friends, years ago, the father and son were preachers, the family took in children from the courts. they were a people of great faith… A fire, that firefighters had been battling for days, was baring down on there ranch house. There had been a long battle fought to turn the flames but it had been lost. As the fire bore down on them the family fell on their knees, at their fence, and prayed. The wind changed direction, mere inches from that fence and bunkhouse. If we all had that faith.
    We have a fire bearing down on our nation now. Everyone of us needs to be on our knees. God bless you, God bless us, everyone and God bless the United States of America.

  15. Yes Lorita, what miracles would we realize if we had just a little of that faith, that wonderful confidence! I think it must come individually. He is anxious for us to call out to him! O, what a wonderful friend our God is. Bless you and yours, Chaz

  16. Being born and raised in Wisconsin, I heard of Peshtigo long ago, usually when someone started talking about the Chicago fire. Most people felt Peshtigo didn’t get mentioned because it was a small town but I think I remember that the Peshtigo fire killed many times more people and destroyed more area than the Chicago fire.
    The story about the baby made me think of the fiery furnace and I bet if they had been able to look they would have seen someone covering the infant with their own body!

  17. Amazing and well written – I could pictures what events, wonderful word imagery. Made me think about the California fires. It’s likely they will be serious again this fall. However, we have this promise: “Though I walk through the Vally of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for Thou art with me.”

  18. Dear Judith, and He is so very faithful isn’t he? A connection to Papa God is a connection to life itself isn’t it? His words, “fear not for I am with you!” Wow, what a friend we have in Jesus. Bless you always, Chaz


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