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Aug25-11, 12:09 PM
P: 197
I don't know how to post a link embedded in a quote, but you can find the link in Reference # 14 in the Wikipedia article "Great Chicago Fire" at:

Here's the abstract:

Robert M. Wood
Associate Fellow, McDonnell Douglas (retired)
Newport Beach, California
On October 8, 1871, a fire started that
burned much of Chicago, killing 300, and
destroying $200,000,000 worth of property.
Most people are unaware that within a few
minutes, major fires started in upstate
Wisconsin and Michigan, killing more than
2000 people in the farming country. Because
of the poor communications with the upstate
areas, the magnitude of the upstate horror
was not known for weeks.
Biela's Comet, with a solar orbital period
of 6 years 9 months, had been disturbed by
Jupiter on a previous passage and broke into
two large comets. It has been hypothesized
that one of them struck Earth and broke into
several smaller pieces. These pieces,
consisting of frozen comet gases would have
likely included combustibles like methane
CH4 and acetylene C2H2 that melted,
vaporized and explosively ignited, causing
impressive incendiary results upstate,
consistent with surviving witness reports.
Witness reports from Chicago included
statements that entire basements exploded
with a blue flame and that red-hot sand came
raining down. In upstate Wisconsin near
Green Bay, there were reports of “fire
balloons” about one meter in size falling
from the sky that exploded with great heat
when ignited, incinerating objects struck. If
fire balloons consisted of methane, one ton
of methane would be the energy equivalent
of 12 tons of TNT if stoichiometrically
burned. There were also reports that the fire
came directly from the sky, with a trembling
of the earth – perhaps a symptom of a shock
wave. The loss of life was the greatest of
any fire in U.S. history, and the area burned
of all trees and secondary growth
approximated the size of Connecticut.
A two dimensional evaluation by the
author of the orbit of Biela’s Comet’s two
parts shows that it is reasonable to
hypothesize that Jupiter may have disturbed
either the primary or the secondary comet
sufficiently to have speeded up its arrival at
earth by about a year earlier than expected.
In the plane of the ecliptic, it has been
determined that one post-Jupiter encounter
comet solution is period of 3229 days and
eccentricity of 0.801, thus resulting in earth
orbit arrival at the right time. It is suspected
that a precision 3-D calculation will show
that the orbit parameters are within expected
comet uncertainties.
The credibility of this scenario has been
evaluated to respond to skeptical concerns
about: the lack of advance warning;
feasibility of orbits; large fire routinely-
reported phenomena; inaccurate reporting of
observations; and the presence of some fires
already burning upstate.

Although the Chicago Fire included Mrs.
O'Leary's barn, the suggestion that her cow
started it is a traditional story no better than
speculation that a careless smoker might
have been in the barn. More generally, this
example suggests that witness testimony,
even when inconsistent with the theories of
the day or the favored media explanations,
may be reevaluated later and support new
theoretical interpretations, such as the idea
that Earth has recently been struck by a
comet, causing the widespread and ferocious
destruction of October 8, 1871.