Today's History: Great Hinckley Fire on September 1, 1894

Terry Davis

HINCKLEY, MN - Red devil devastated an estimated 480 square kilometers in just four hours on September 1, causing tremendous devastation and killing over 418 people. The fire zone was located in Pine County, which was renowned for its beautiful white pine woodlands.

When Hinckley was founded in 1894, it was a thriving timber town located midway between St. Paul and Duluth. During the logging season, the city had around 1500 people, many businesses and residences, an opera theater, and a new brick school. Hinckley served as a hub for the Eastern Minnesota and St. Paul and Duluth railways. Hinckley’s fire zone spanned from Quamba to Brook Park (Pokegama) and Mission Creek in the south, to Sandstone, Groningen (Miller), Askov (Partridge), and Finlayson in the north, despite its official name.

In the dry, hot summer, this “slash” served as excellent fire fuel. All summer long, sparks from passing trains ignited fires in the region, and people complained of sore eyes from breathing in the smoky air all day. On September 1, the flames were completely out.

Fires broke out south of Mission Creek and south of Brook Park, resulting in the Hinckley fire. In Mission Creek, no one was killed, but all structures except a log house were destroyed. According to the Associated Press, forty-three individuals escaped by hiding in a potato field amid the ash storm and extreme heat.

During the fire that broke out around 2 pm at Brook Park, 23 individuals lost their lives. Even the new schoolhouse was gone. A rumbling noise was heard when the fire neared the town with its superheated air and wind-driven fireballs.

Many of the survivors suffered severe burns, and some of them resulted in death. Many had their eyes swelled shut and were unable to see as a result of the swelling. Many cities, notably Pine City, Mora, Duluth, and Superior, gave urgent aid and refuge to the survivors. The state fire relief commission was established on September 3 to oversee the recovery. From around the world, people sent in donations, including 500 pairs of shoes from the Montgomery Ward Co.

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