The great Thumb Fire took place on September 5, 1881, in the Thumb area of Michigan in the United States. The fire, which burned over a million acres (4,000 km²) in less than a day, was the consequence of drought, hurricane-force winds, heat, the after-effects of the Port Huron Fire of 1871, and the ecological damage wrought by the era's logging techniques.
The blaze, also called the Great Thumb Fire, the Great Forest Fire of 1881 and the Huron Fire, killed 282 people in Sanilac, Lapeer, Tuscola and Huron counties. The damage estimate was $2,347,000 (which is $56,522,234 adjusted for inflation).
The summer of 1881 had been extremely hot, and the Thumb had virtually no rain during July and August. There were forest fires beginning in mid-August, and on August 31, a fire started in northern Lapeer County and destroyed several buildings in Sandusky and Deckerville in nearby Sanilac County. On Monday, September 5, the town of Bad Axe, in Huron County, burst into flames. Winds spread the fire to Huron City and Grindstone City. The fire continued to spread through Tuesday and Wednesday, September 6 and 7, consuming most of Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac and Lapeer counties.
In 1881 Clara Barton, at the age of 60, founded the American Red Cross. The first official disaster the organization responded to was the Michigan "Thumb Fire" of 1881. The Red Cross provided money, clothes and household items. After the fire of 1881 more than 14,000 people were made dependent on public aid and over 2000 barns, dwellings and schools were destroyed.