History of Hinckley Forest Fire

About six miles west of Mission Creek was Pokegama, now shown on the railroad maps as Brook Park. It had been first settled in 1893, and there were one hundred and thirty-five persons in the settlement. On the day of the fire, the wind blew a gale from the southwest, and swept the fire, which started three miles away, in a direct line to the village. The fire reached this settlement about two o’clock in the afternoon; the atmosphere was filled with smoke; the people, for protection, sought the water of a small pond, about fifteen feet deep in the center, near a railroad bridge. This increased the danger, as only the edges of the pond could be used by the people for fear of getting beyond their depth in the water. The people were all huddled together, throwing water upon each other, and the heat became so intense they were obliged to stand in the water, barely leaving their mouths -and noses exposed so as to breathe. They were kept in the pond by the heat from two to six o’clock in the afternoon, when they took possession of two boxcars, which the fire had left untouched. Twenty-three persons lost their lives, and the schoolhouse, sawmill, store and dwellings were completely devastated.

Between Pokegama and Opsted, twenty-three Chippewa Indian bodies were found; these belonged to the Chief Wacouta band, who perished with his followers. They had left the reservation two months before the fire, and built a hunting lodge on one of the forks of the Shadridge Creek.

At this time the fire fiend was advancing with rapid strides upon Hinckley, one of the lumbering town of Pine County, having a population of about 1,200 people. All around the village were woods as dry as tinder, and ready for a terrible bonfire. The danger of fire had long been seen, and warning had been given of possible damage to the town. The inhabitants, however, had become fearless bf danger. The fire that reached Mission Creek swept onwards towards the north, following the direction of the St. Paul and Duluth railway tracks, where they intersect with the Great Northern tracks. This alone was certain doom to Hinckley, but soon the fire which had laid Brook Park in ashes joined the other fire, and Hinckley became one avalanche of flame, wind, heat and storm, dealing death and destruction in its path. The depot, public buildings, schools, etc., simply melted down in a few minutes; the earth, the air, even the heavens, seemed to be on fire; it was only in flight, water, or the train that escape could be hoped for.

About two o’clock on the afternoon of the fire, the fire department of Hinckley was called to the west side of the town to fight a slight blaze; in about half an hour a dozen small buildings on the outskirts were in flames. ‘Two thousand feet of hose was laid down, and a telegram sent to Rush City for 600 feet more. The wind was blowing a perfect hurricane, from a direction a little west of south. At twenty minutes to three o’clock, the local from Duluth, on the Great Northern railroad, pulled into Hinckley; everything was afire at that time, and the heat and smoke were intense almost to suffocation. The freight train was sidetracked awaiting the arrival of a passenger train, northbound, due at Hinckley at 3:25. After a consultation of the conductors and engineers, Barry, engineer of the freight train, ran up to the other end of the yard, and coupled on to three box cars, a caboose and five passenger coaches, besides the two engines.

All this time the fire had been pushing on in its mad course, and the chief of the fire department informed the people that the fire was beyond control, and that they must save themselves, as he could do nothing for them. The emergency train was drawn up before the depot and the panic stricken men, women and children, to the number of 276, were placed on board. The train, after waiting for three quarters of an hour at the depot, and until men and animals were falling in the street from the heat, moved out towards a place of safety. Everything was burning, fire on all sides, and the heat continued so intense, that combined with the smoke it seemed as if all on board would perish of suffocation. Seven miles out of Hinckley, the first cool current of air was struck, and the passengers could breath easier. When Sandstone was reached the train pulled up, and many people of that town boarded it. Just out of Sandstone, the bridge over Kettle River was on fire; the train slowed up, and the watchman cried: “For God’s sake go on, you can cross it now, but it will go down in five minutes.” The engineer threw the throttle wide open, ran out on the bridge, and crossed it in safety; five minutes later the bridge fell by its own weight.

A twenty-minute stop was made at Partridge, where the occupants of the cars were supplied with water, they having been exposed to the terrible heat for so long a. time, that they were suffering agonies. The train stopped at Mansfield and Kerrick, and reached West Superior without any further exciting incidents.

The south-bound limited train, on the St. Paul and Duluth railroad, left Duluth for St. Paul at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the first day of September. The train consisted of one combination car, one coach, two chair cars and engine No. 69. The atmosphere was heavy with smoke, when the train pulled out of the Duluth depot. All the way to Carlton the smoke grew gradually thicker and denser. The train had aboard one hundred and thirty-five to one hundred and fifty passengers, who became greatly alarmed by the flames, that could be seen on both sides of the track, and the roar of the fire could be distinctly heard. The heat became more and. more intense and insufferable; the smoke increased until it was found difficult to breathe. The trainmen attempted to allay the fears of the passengers, and when within a mile and a half of Hinckley the first information was received of what had occurred at that place. A number of fleeing and panic-stricken citizens flagged the train, and in a few words told their story. About one hundred and fifty to two hundred of these refugees boarded the train. The conductor finally decided to run his train back to Skunk Lake, located near the track, about four miles from the place where the refugees were met. The engine was reversed, and the four miles to Skunk Lake accomplished, though the flames gained upon the train every minute, finally bursting over it in a hurricane blast. Smoke and flames were everywhere; came in through the ventilators, the tops of the cars, and through the cracks at the sides of the windows. The rear coach being on fire, the terror-stricken passengers fled to the other coaches. The heat was so intense that it cracked the glass in the windows of the, cars, and many of the passengers became delirious. Skunk Lake was reached, and the passengers and refugees immersed themselves in the morass of mud and water, where they laid for hours, holding their faces close to the ground to escape suffocation. All the passengers were saved on the train except one, who wandered away from the party, and whose body was found west of the track.

On the line of the Eastern Minnesota railroad in Hinckley, the railroad company had made a gravel pit two or three acres in extent; its bottom was some twenty or thirty feet below the level of the surrounding country. After the departure of the train about seventy persons sought shelter in this pit. It contained a pool of water about three feet in its greatest depth, and closely huddled together in this pool were the fugitives, domestic animals and from 300 to 400 trunks, all of which passed through the fire unscathed. This pit was large enough to have saved all the people of Hinckley, and their household goods, had they only sought its refuge. The loss by the fires at Hinckley was one hundred and ninety-seven persons.

A half an hour after the emergency train had left Sandstone, which is situated on the Kettle River, in Pine County, about nine miles from Hinckley, the conflagration reached the village. The people had refused to heed the warning of the refugees from Hinckley, on board the emergency train, which pulled out and left them to their fate. Every building in the village, with one exception, became a heap of ashes, and sixty-three of the villagers perished in the flames, the balance finding safety in the waters of the Kettle River.

Partridge, a small station six miles north of Sandstone, had a population of about fifty people; this hamlet wad totally destroyed. The residents were all saved except one, a refuge being found about three miles from the hamlet in a lumber camp of one hundred acres that had been burned over. Here they remained from a few minutes before six until midnight, when they were rescued by a relief train from West Superior.

Sandstone Junction (or Miller), a station nine miles north of Hinckley, on the St. Paul and Duluth railroad, was merely a sidetrack for lumber cars, and most of the residents adjacent to it were farmers, who had made clearings and settled on them. To escape the conflagration, the inhabitants placed themselves in wells and potato patches, in the latter covering themselves with earth. Quite a number of the settlers were away at the time of the fire, but fifty per cent of those at home were burned to death.

According to the certified report of Dr. D. W. Cowan of Pine County, under date of November 24, 1894, there was a total of 413 deaths, caused by the conflagration. The State Commission, appointed by Governor Nelson, consisting of Charles A. Pillsbury, Kenneth Clark, Charles H. Graves, Matthew G. Norton and Hastings H. Hart, estimated the property loss would approximate $750,000; this did not include damages done to the lumber and soil. The treasurer of the commission acknowledged the receipt of $96,458.69 cash donations; of this amount, $11,600 was received from England and Canada; $14,711.19 from the United States, outside of Minnesota and $70,147.50 from Minnesota. Besides this, $23,565.74 was donated and distributed by local relief committees. The total estimated value of relief furnished to the fire sufferers was $184,744.

Hinckley Forest Fire Deaths

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