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Hinckley Fire of 1894

Subjects: Environment

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Overview

View of Hinckley main street the morning after the fire

The story of the Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894, is a tragic saga of destruction, terror, courage, heroism, and death. Hinckley, a logging and railroad center, was laid waste by the inferno that roared through the town, sending hundreds of townspeople in flight for their lives and leaving hundreds dead in its wake. In attempting to escape the fire, people sought safety in wells, swamps, a railroad gravel pit, and the river. Heroic individuals saved many lives.

What caused this historic fire that raced across 480 square miles and burned 350,000 acres? A long drought made for tinder-dry conditions in miles of cutover forests — the wasteland resulting from the unregulated logging practices of the time. A southerly wind blowing over small fires in the area brought in haze and smoking sparks, picking up speed throughout the morning. By mid-afternoon, a large black cloud hovered over the town, and the sound of the wind had grown to a distant roar. A huge fireball set several houses and the depot ablaze, then swept northward through the town and woods toward Barnum. A 37-mile segment of the Munger Trail memorializes the route the fire took between Hinckley and Barnum, the suffering and death it caused, and the devastation it wrought.

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Minnesota Historical Society Library • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300