Great Hinckley Fire
|Great Hinckley Fire|
|Location||Pine County, near Hinckley, Minnesota|
|Date(s)||September 1, 1894
3:00 p.m. (CDT)
|Burned area||200,000 acres (810 km2)|
|Fatalities||418 - 800|
The Great Hinckley Fire was a major conflagration on September 1, 1894, which burned an area of at least 200,000 acres (810 km2; 310 sq mi), perhaps more than 250,000 acres (1,000 km2; 390 sq mi), including the town of Hinckley, Minnesota. The fire killed hundreds, with the minimum number estimated at 418. Some scholars believe the actual figure to be nearly 800; if so, this was the deadliest fire in the history of Minnesota (the 1918 Cloquet Fire killed at least 453).
After a two-month summer drought, combined with very high temperatures, several small fires started in the pine forests of Pine County, Minnesota. The fires' spread apparently was due to the then-common method of lumber harvesting, wherein trees were stripped of their branches in place; these branches littered the ground with flammable debris. Also contributing was a temperature inversion that trapped the gases from the fires. The scattered blazes united into a firestorm. The temperature rose to at least 2,000 °F (1,100 °C). Barrels of nails melted into one mass, and in the yards of the Eastern Minnesota Railroad, the wheels of the cars fused with the rails. Some residents escaped by climbing into wells, ponds, or the Grindstone River. Others clambered aboard two crowded trains that pulled out of the threatened town.
James Root, an engineer on a train heading south from Duluth, rescued nearly 300 people by backing up a train nearly five miles to Skunk Lake, where the passengers escaped the fire. William Best was an engineer on a train sent specifically to evacuate people.
According to the Hinckley Fire Museum:
Because of the dryness of the summer, fires were common in the woods, along railroad tracks and in logging camps where loggers would set fire to their slash to clean up the area before moving on. Some loggers, of course left their debris behind, giving any fire more fuel on which to grow. Saturday, September 1st, 1894 began as another oppressively hot day with fires surrounding the towns and two major fires that were burning about five miles (8 km) to the south. To add to the problem, the temperature inversion that day added to the heat, smoke and gases being held down by the huge layer of cool air above. The two fires managed to join together to make one large fire with flames that licked through the inversion finding the cool air above. That air came rushing down into the fires to create a vortex or tornado of flames which then began to move quickly and grew larger and larger turning into a fierce firestorm. The fire first destroyed the towns of Mission Creek and Brook Park before coming into the town of Hinckley. When it was over the Firestorm had completely destroyed six towns, and over 400 square miles (1,000 km2) lay black and smoldering. The firestorm was so devastating that it lasted only four hours but destroyed everything in its path"
Today, a 37-mile (60 km) section of the Willard Munger State Trail, from Hinckley to Barnum, is a memorial to the fire and the devastation it caused. In the town of Hinckley, on Highway 61, the Hinckley Fire Museum is located in the former Northern Pacific Railway depot. It is located a few feet north of the former depot, which burned down in the fire. It is open from May 1 until the end of October.
The Brook Park Cemetery on County Road 126, south of Minnesota State Highway 23, has an historical marker plaque and a memorial to the 23 fire victims of Brook Park, with a tall obelisk on top of a granite marker.
Notable people killed
- Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett, the Union soldier who killed John Wilkes Booth after Booth's assassination of Abraham Lincoln, is presumed to have died in the fire. His last known residence is believed to have been a forest settlement near Hinckley, and a "Thomas Corbett" is listed as one of the fire's victims.
- Haines, Donald A. & Sando, Rodney W. (1969). "Climatic Conditions Preceding Historical Great Fires in the North Central Region". North Central Experimentation Forest Service (US Department of Agriculture).
- "Early Hinckley - before and after the fire". Seans.com.
- Snow, Richard F. (May 1977). "The Hinckley Fire". American Heritage. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
- "Little-known Canadian saved hundreds of lives". Canada's History Magazine, Online.
- "The Life of the Pullman Porter". SCSRA.
- Gilman, Rhoda R. (1991). The Story of Minnesota's Past. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87351-267-7.
- Brown, Daniel James (2006). Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-59228-863-4.
- "Hinckley Fire of 1894". Minnesota Historical Society Library, History Topics.
- "The Story of James Root". UMN.edu.
- "History of Hinckley".
- "The Great Fire of 1894". Minnesota Alliance for Geographical Education, Macalester College.
- "Hinckley, Pine County, Minnesota, Forest Fire Deaths, 1894". Minnesota Genealogy.