Tuesday, September 5, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: September 5

September 5, 1908 – Thousands of acres of agricultural lands and millions of feet of standing timber were laid to waste, one town, Chisholm, was wiped out, three more towns may have been destroyed, several mining locations were burned and at least 10,000 people are homeless as the result of forest fires, which swept through many districts in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin this afternoon and around 6:00 this evening. Nothing but smoldering ruins marked the town of Chisholm two hours later. The only building still standing was the new $125,000 high school.

Chisholm after the fire1

Citizens fought the flames until human endurance could no longer withstand the rush of smoke and heat, then they were forced to retreat to Hibbing, leaving behind everything they owned for the flames to feed upon.

Three train loads of refugees were hurried to Virginia. Those not fortunate enough to get away by rail hurried to places of apparent safety by team and on foot, some vainly endeavoring to save various articles of value.

The wind howled over the tree tops, driving the tongues of flames into Chisholm. Building after building fell prey to the onrush, until every structure had been leveled. Then the fire again jumped into the dry forest and continued on in unabated fury.

The total loss by midnight was estimated at $2,000,000, with every indication that before morning this figure would be greatly increased.

The mining locations of Shenando, population 2,000; Hartley, 1,000, and Pillsbury, 1,000, were completely destroyed, immediately following the destruction of Chisholm.

Chisholm First National Bank after Fire1

Lodge halls, churches and homes of Hibbing were thrown open to the refugees, even while the citizens were, themselves, packing up their valuables in case they needed to leave their city should the flames approach much closer. At midnight the advance guard was not more than a mile away and the fire fighters had been utterly unable to check the onslaught at any point, but a little later the wind shifted and Hibbing was safe.

Fortunately, no one died in this fire. Afterwards, Chisholm’s building codes were enhanced, and by the next summer more than 70 fireproof buildings had been erected.

The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune
; “10,000 Made Homeless by Forest Fires, Northern Minnesota Towns in Ashes. People Flee Before Onrushing Flames; Property Loss Will Reach Millions. Town of Chisholm, Minn., Completely Razed With Loss Estimated at over $2,000,000. Ashawa and Many Mining Centers Devastated—Bayfield, Wis., Still Burning—Several Other Towns and Hamlets in this Sate Surrounded by Flames and Their Total Destruction Seems Possible.”; September 6, 1908; pp. 1-2.




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