Monday, September 12, 2016

the great fire

I attended college at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.  This campus was home to the agriculture, forestry and home economics students.  During our first freshmen quarter we took an orientation class which covered the history of land grant institutions and Minnesota history.  One of the ongoing discussions concerned the great Hinckley fire of 1894.  This was, of course, very interesting to the forestry students and all of us who like history.

Fires had been burning in the area over the hot, dry summer.  Logging companies at that time stripped the branches from the trees onsite before removing them.  This caused a buildup of a dense layer of dried brush.  A heat dome had settled over the area and the weather remained very hot that summer.  At some point several small fires joined together and broke through the heat dome.  When the cooler upper air rushed downward a tornado effect occurred.  This firestorm blasted through the area and overran anything in its way including six towns.  

Heroic efforts were made to rescue people from the town of Hinckley.  Two trains hooked together and loaded as many people as possible into the cars and backed up several miles on the track out of the path of the fire.  Nonetheless many lives were lost that day.  The results of this fire were twofold.  Logging companies changed their clearing methods and no longer left the forest floor littered with debris.  Also, the devastating fire cleared a wide swath of area and opened up the land to farming.

There is a monument in Hinckley commemorating the families lost and those that survived the great fire.  In the cemetery there is a granite pillar dedicated to the firemen lost that day.  The town was quickly rebuilt with the train station going up within two months.  Small cabins were quickly built for those residents that chose to return.  The museum is in the train station.

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