The exact origin of the fire is somewhat indefinite; the one that visited Hinckley must have started in the region south of Mission Creek. Around this little village much of the pine had been cut. There was in the hamlet twenty-six houses, a schoolhouse, a small sawmill a general store, hotel and blacksmith shop. At the time of the fire there were seventy-three people living in, and adjacent to, this village; a great number of the population were away from home, having gone to Dakota for the harvest. The people had been fighting local fires for a month. At noon, on September 1, great clouds of smoke could be seen in the southwest. By two o’clock the wind became a hurricane, and at three o’clock it was almost as dark as night. The people flocked to the store, and asked the proprietor to telegraph for a train to take them away. By this time the whole village was on fire, and the people proceeded to a potato patch in the rear of the store. For two hours they laid with their faces to the ground until the worst was over, and that night were conveyed by a work train to Pine City. Everyone lost all they had, with the exception of a few who saved a little wearing apparel, which happened to be stored away in satchels.
As early as July 16 forest fires were reported in Eastern Minnesota, section men in the employ of the railroads were set to work fighting the flames. Hundreds of tons of hay were destroyed. The fires were generally removed quite a distance from the right of way of the railroads or the habitations of the resident, and there had been no reports of any damaged buildings.
The theory has been advanced that the origin of the fire was caused by charcoal dust and carbon being absorbed by the atmosphere, and then becoming so heated by the long continued drought, so as to produce spontaneous combustion. The basis however, of this theory is simply that persons claimed to have witnessed that the air seemed to be on fire, and that the flames made’ great leaps, often breaking out from 1,500 to 2,000 feet ahead of the foremost blaze, without any apparent cause. The survivors of the calamity, however, state that the wind was terrific and the smoke was so black and dense that it was impossible to see anything three feet away. The fact was, that for three months there had been’ a continuation of forest fires, some of which had not been properly extinguished by the fire fighters, and this, with the intense dryness, had made a regular tinder box of the accumulated debris, which igniting laid the foundation for the great conflagration.