Moose Lake after the 1918 Fires

This photograph hangs in the Moose Lake Star-Gazette office. It was taken just after the 1918 Fires in Moose Lake. 

 

Logging, dry weather and sparks from a passing train 103 years ago October 10 started one of the worst natural disasters in Minnesota history and forever changed the community of Moose Lake. 

On October 9 at 2 p.m. the Moose Lake Area Historical Society will host a presentation focusing on the recovery and rebuilding after the 1918 fires. 

Years of dry conditions in the Arrowhead region resulted in numerous small fires throughout the region that continued to smolder. October 10, 1918 sparks from a passing train ignited dry slash left from logging operations northwest of Cloquet. A fire had been smoldering since October 4 in Aitkin County near Tamarack. These fires, and an estimated 49 others, smoldered for two days before a changing weather front caused the winds to change. Increasing winds and a drop in humidity created the perfect conditions for fires that turned into a firestorm. 

A firestorm is a fire so intense that it creates and sustains its own wind pattern. Creating wind patterns allows for the fire to have an increased access to oxygen that feeds the fire and produces greater heat. Winds during a firestorm can cause the air to become superheated resulting in flammable material ahead of the flames being ignited. Superheated air causing flammable material ahead of the fire to ignite results in a greatly enlarged area of fire in a shorter amount of time. 

Because of their size and geographic range of the fires on October 12 1918 the fires of 1918 are commonly divided into the Duluth-Cloquet Fire and the Moose Lake Fire. Both were caused by a change in weather on October 12 combining several smaller fires and igniting a firestorm. 

Moose Lake Fire

Fires had been smoldering around the area for days. Sparks from a rail line on October 4 ignited a fire near Tamarack. A cold front dropped into the area increasing the wind on October 12 at about 1:30 p.m. Fires around the area began combining to create one large fire, and it was on the move. 

At about 6:45 p.m. on October 12 the fire had reached Kettle River. An estimated 75 to 100 people lost their lives at a sharp corner in the road as they attempted to flee the fire in their cars. This sharp corner south of town was known as Dead Man’s Curve to residents. 

Just 45 minutes later at 7:30 p.m. the fire was approaching Moose Lake. A relief train arrived to rescue some citizens, but many were saved in Moose Head Lake. Some even drove their cars directly into the lake to avoid the fire. 

By 10 p.m. on October 12 the fire was over. At 3 a.m. on October 13 recovery began. 

Between the two fires on October 12 an estimated 250,000  acres were burned and 1,000 people lost their lives. Damages are estimated to be over a billion in today’s economy. 

Rebuilding began on October 13, 1918. 

To learn more about how Moose Lake recovered and rebuilt after the fire visit the Soo Line Event Center on October 9, 2021 at 2 p.m. The Moose Lake Area Historical Society will be presenting a program to highlight the resilience to adversity that surfaced and how the rebuilding began in Moose Lake. Memory candles will be for sale at the door. Masks will be required at this event. 

 

 

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