The Great Fire of the North-East was a forest fire which took place some 300 years ago, covering much of the North-East area of Prince Edward Island. It is said that the Big Tree, when its core samples were taken, showed evidence of being burned, which coincided with the Great Fire.
This fire would have taken place during the French regime. Fires were, at times, set occassionally in those days in order to clear land, or to maintain insect populations.
Whether there was one Great Fire, or several, is unclear.
"There has been a fire about seventy years ago which passed almost through the whole Island and burnt up a great deal of the soil," 1774 Smethurst, Gamaliel
We find reference to the Great Fire in a letter from Samuel Holland, dated 8 October 1765, which says that "The Woods upon this coast, from the East Point as far Southward as Hillsborough River, and to Bedford Bay [i.e. Tracadie Bay] on the West were entirely destroyed by fire about twenty six years since, it was so extremely violent, that all the Fishing Vessels at St. Peter's and Morrele River in St. Peters Bay were burnt..."
Basing our numbers off of Holland's letter, we would speculate that the Great Fire occurred around 1739.
Another letter, dated 4 March 1765 says that "About 2 4 years since there happened a fire that destroyed the greatest part of the timber: the course it ran wa s from the Bay of Fortune to St. Peters, from thence to the North East River, along Savage Bay, Tracady 11 Harbour and very near to Racico which in many places affords a very extraordinary appearance, particularly at the Carrying Place betwixt the North East Rivers and Tracady, where the burnt timber looks at a distance like lofty pillars or columnes. The plains occasioned by the fire being thus robbed of their wood, occasioned a desertion by the inhabitants of St. Peters during the Winter Season to a place called Morrell, distant about three miles, to which they retire for the convenience of Wood both for Firing and Shelter"
We also find the following report, written by an anonymous hand, most likely an officer in the garrison at either Fort Amherst or Halifax, who writes that "Backwards into the Country, it is almost entirely clear even to the Bay of St Peters, from a Fire which happen'd in the Year 1750 . From thence I proceed north to Newfrage a small Harbour fit only for Shallops and but thinly Settled, the Lands much of the same Quality with the other parts of the Island. To Point East, it is six leagues north north-east, and is only taken notice of as the most Easterly point of the Island: The Lands thickly Cover'd with a small Specie of Birch, From hence we begin to proceed to the westward, for St Peters." Here editor Sobey speculates that these small species of birch may be prevalent due to forest regeneration from a large fire.
Reference to fires may be found in "Past and Present of Prince Edward Island. B.F. Bowen. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. 1906.", wherein a passage on page 18 reads "during, or more likely prior to, the actual settlement of the Island by the French, a destructive fire swept a large part of its surface, causing enormous damage. Before this calamity occurred, the Island must have been stocked with deer. Even to this day their antlers are sometimes found, proving their former existence here. In his childhood, the writer has heard the old people tell that, in some great, by-gone fire, all the deer had been destroyed, and, although they did not know when it happened, the tradition could only have referred to this fire, during or before the early days of French settlement. Mr. Stewart refers to it briefly. It is likely that when it occurred fishermen were frequenting these shores, but if so, their settlements must have been of a very temporary nature, and there is no record of them. Of the destruction of the deer and of the forests, there seems to be no room for doubt."
"Next, after making another two leagues, we doubled Pointe de l'Est. This point had been reduced to a wilderness by a fire which has passed through this section, and the settlers have established themselves at a distance of two leagues from the point on the north side." ~1752 De la Roque http://www.islandregister.com/1752_page7.html
EARLY DESCRIPTIONS OF THE FORESTS OF PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND: BY DOUGLAS SOBEY http://www.islandlives.ca/fedora/repository/ilives%3A266852-2b/PDF/ilives%3A266852-2b/Full%20Text.pdf