A lot of folks are aware of the Great Chicago Fire. Growing up and living in Wisconsin, Wisconsinites would be quick to point out that on that same date a far worse fire occurred in the town of Peshtigo.

If you were asked to name a major fire in Minnesota you might answer the Hinckley fire just as I would. Close, but not correct. The 1894 Hinckley fire claimed 418 lives. I admit I had never heard of the October 12, 1918 fire up in Cloquet and Moose Lake north of Duluth. This fire actually is the worst natural disaster in Minnesota history. The closest to an accurate death count figures around 453 and maybe up to a 1,000 lost their lives in the disaster. An accurate count was deterred by the large number of loggers that came and went back in the day and also it wasn't really known how many people lived out in the countryside. Another 12,000 or so were left homeless.

The method of logging in that day left dry scraps of wood in the woods. Couple in hot and dry weather, strong winds and mix in sparks from a train and you have your ingredients for a disaster. One of the most tragic facts is that a number of people attempted to race out of the area in their cars. There is mention of one particular road with a very sharp bend where many vehicles failed to negotiate the curve and at least 25 deaths resulted from traffic accidents on this road.

October 7-13 is Fire Prevention Week. Appropriate perhaps that Northern Minnesota will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Minnesota's worst fire and natural disaster.


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