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Disaster Relief in Minnesota: Fires

Fire Relief Overview

Large, destructive fires are an important part of many Minnesota communities' history. Major fires in Minnesota history include:

  • Sept. 1, 1894: Hinckley fire
  • Oct. 7, 1910: The Baudette and Spooner fires
  • Oct. 12, 1918: The Cloquet, Duluth, and Moose Lake fires
  • Sept., 1931: Fires around Red Lake burned over 900,000 acres

Minneapolis Tribune Headline September 3, 1894

Fire information taken from:

Major Disasters in Minnesota, by Ruth Bauer Anderson
MNHS call number: Reference Desk 606.1 .A67 2001 

Resources on Fires in Minnesota

Wall of Flames, by Lawrence W. Larsen
Book about the 1894 Hinckley fire. 
Fargo : North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, c1984.
MNHS call number: Reading Room SD421.32 M6 L37 1984

Under the Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, by Daniel James Brown.
Guilford, Conn. : Lyons Press, c2006.
MNHS call number: Reading Room SD421.32 .M6 B76 2006

The Fires of Autumn, by Francis M. Carroll and Franklin R. Raiter.
Book about the Moose Lake and Cloquet area fires of 1918.
St. Paul : Minnesota Historical Society Press, c1990.
MNHS call number: Reading Room SD 421 .32 .M6 C37 1990, also available for purchase

Minnesota, 1918: When Flu, Fire and War Ravaged the State, by Curt Brown
St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, c 2018
MNHS call number: Reading Room F606 .B87 2018

1918 Fire Stories, compiled by the Moose Lake Area Historical Society
Moose Lake, Minn: Moose Lake Area Historical Society, 2003.
MNHS call number: SD421.32.M6 N56 2003

Cloquet Fire Witness Statements and Correspondence, 1918-1921
Carbon copy excerpts from witness statements concerning the Cloquet fire of 1918 and other materials related to fire litigation. The witness statements include excerpts from testimony from dozens of individuals who suffered losses during the fires. 
MNHS call number: P2809

Hinckley and the Fire of 1894, by Alaina Wolter Lyseth.
Charleston, South Carolina : Arcadia Publishing, 2014.
MNHS call number: SD421 .32 .M6 L97 2014 | Available digitally through eBooks Minnesota

A Brief Statement of Facts: Minnesota Forest Fires, 1918, by the Minnesota Forest Fire Reimbursement Association
Cloquet, Minn.: Northern Printery Press, c1925
MNHS call number: SD421.M64 A35 1925

Minnesota Commission of Public Safety, Main Files 1917-1919
The main subject files for the state wartime organization and watchdog detail initial funds and relief for 1918 fire victims.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid 

Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Fire, Flood, and Tornado Relief Records, 1937-1939
Correspondence and financial records for five relief projects administered by the Department of Agriculture: floods at Thief River Falls in Aitkin County and in the Snake River Valley, a tornado in southern and southwestern Minnesota, and a forest fire in St. Louis County. 
MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Agriculture Department)

Minnesota State Commission for the Relief of Fire Sufferers Records 1894-1895
Records on relief granted to victims of the 1894 Hinckley fire. Includes multiple ledgers listing victims names that received aid. 
MNHS call numberDigital Finding Aid 

Minnesota Executive Council, Relief Correspondence and Records, 1919-1955
Correspondence and related materials to disaster relief for a wide range of disasters in Minnesota. Includes records for drought, hailstorm, fire, seed grain, flood, and tornado relief. Fire relief covered in these records includes the 1936 Palo-Markham (St. Louis County) fire and fires from 1931 and 1934-1937.
MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Executive Council)

Minnesota Governor, Chisholm Fire Relief Records, 1908-1909
Reports, correspondence, and financial records of a committee that coordinated relief to sufferers from a forest fire that destroyed the town of Chisholm on September 5, 1908.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Minnesota Governor, Miscellaneous Forest Fire Relief Files, 1910-1921
Correspondence, financial records, and other miscellaneous documents related to forest fires and the work of the Minnesota Forest Fires Relief Commission. 
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Minnesota Home Guard
State military organization's records includes information on relief service during the Moose Lake fire of 1918.
MNHS call numberDigital Finding Aid

Frank Yetka legal files, 1926-1935
Correspondence, legal documents, and other materials from Yetka, a Cloquet lawyer who represented 1918 fire victims.
MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (P1835)


Personal Accounts

Many personal papers or letters in the Minnesota Historical Society manuscripts collections mention or describe major fires in Minnesota history. While these descriptions are brief, they do help paint a vivid picture of the destruction and relief efforts for major Minnesota fires. Collections with such mentions include: 

Hinkley Fire, 1894

Death at my Heels, by May Gorman Newman
MNHS call number: P1193-2

The Hinkley Fire, by Alice Nelson Wilcox
MNHS call number: P1193-3

John W. Blair papers, 1867-1915
MNHS call number: P1788

The story of my life, 1939, by William A. Shannon
MNHS call number: P1892

Cloquet, Duluth, and Moose Lake Fire, 1918

The 1918 Cloquet Fire, by Helen Benson Shearer
MNHS call number: P1193-4

Kathryn Elfes Gray papers, 1884-1886, 1919-1978
MNHS call number: P2483

A group of essays, 1935, written by Cloquet fire sufferers
MNHS call number: P1935.


The list above is not comprehensive. Search for more personal stories in manuscripts collection with the MNHS library catalog.  

Photographs, Artifacts, & Maps

Search for images related to fires through our Collections Online database. Enter your search terms, then filter the results using the options in the system's left-hand column.

You may want to try terms like:

Fort Snelling FireRed Cross serving meal to National Guard and survivors, Moose Lake forest fireCivilian Conservation Corps fire fighters, northern Minnesota

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Related Guides & Webpages


Newsboy distributing January 1937 Minneapolis Journal.

The Minnesota Historical Society holds the world's largest collection of Minnesota newspapers, with dates ranging from 1849 to the present day.

Past issues of most newspaper titles are available on microfilm in the MNHS library, but there is also digital access to select newspapers

Use the links to the left to search for newspapers available at MNHS and to search within digitized newspaper collections.   

MNHS Reference Staff

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