Little Bits of History

Burning Down the House

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 12, 2014
Cloquet Fire ruins

Cloquet Fire ruins

October 12, 1918: The Cloquet Fire sweeps Carlton County in northern Minnesota. The region hit the hardest was Cloquet, about 20 miles southwest of Duluth, hence the name given to the fire. Also heavily affected were Moose Lake and Kettle River. Carlton County was best known for its logging industry at this time. The railroads had come through in the 1870s and greatly increased the viability of the logging ventures. In 1874, a huge lumber mill was built along the shore of Lake Superior. The logged trees were floated downriver to the mill where they could be sawed for retail. As the trees were cut, the area became usable as farm land and government grants made it possible for new people to come to the region to farm.

As the farming industry grew, so did ancillary industries and soon there were more services of all types available and an influx of people to fill these new positions as well. The dry, harvested land was a fire hazard. On October 10, 1918 two men working near a railroad siding saw a passenger train move through and soon after discovered fires burning through the grass and piles of wood. The fires were smaller, but still not able to be contained and were spreading. On this day, the small localized fires were whipped into an inferno. By 6 PM, forest rangers issued a warning – if the wind did not die down, it would be necessary for the good people of Cloquet to flee. A gust of wind kicked up and set the whole town ablaze.

People tried to board the train which pulled away from the station barely in front of the advancing flames. The windows in the train exploded due to the heat of the fire. Early reports stated the fires were intentionally set. Cloquet Fire Chief FJ Longren denied this and blamed the fire on sparks from a passing train which lit dry timber. The fire was worsened by drought conditions, high winds, and a lack of firefighting equipment. In all, 453 people died in the blaze. Another 52,000 people were injured or displaced and 38 communities were destroyed with 250,000 acres of land burned and $73 million in property damage. Federal aid to the region was $13 million.

Instances of mass deaths were reported with one reporter telling of 75 bodies trapped in a burned building while another 30 bodies were found in a heap in a cellar. Although these were horrific, it could have been much worse. Due to the efforts of both the National Guard and local citizens, two structures were saved. One was the St. James Catholic Orphanage and the other was the Nopeming Sanatorium. The latter was home to nearly 200 TB patients. A line of cars broke through the flames in order to save these people. The fire was brought under come semblance of control by October 13 and the slow process of rebuilding began nearly immediately.

If there’s a fire, I want to be there. Maybe because in being so close to death, I think I understand what it means to be truly alive. – Caroline Paul

It is a revolution, and it can no more be checked by human effort… than a prarie fire by a gardener’s watering pot. – Judah Philip Benjamin

In open range fires it is about picking a spot and hoping it is the right location. At the head of the fire you have to worry about wind and humidity and a number of other factors. – John Glover

To give reason for fancy were to weigh the fire, and measure the wind. – John Lyly

Also on this day: Not Enough Sense to Get Out of the Rain – In 1923, Mackintosh raincoats went on sale.
Festive October – In 1810, Ludwig I married Therese – and began the tradition of Oktoberfest.
6,000,000,000 – In 1999, there were six billion people on the planet.
Chris Landed – In 1492, Columbus landed in the New World.

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