Wednesday, Jun. 08, 2011

The Cloquet Fire, 1918

In the October 1918, while World War I raged in Europe, a small town on the other side of the ocean and halfway across North America made headlines for a devastating natural disaster that was partially man-made. A dry, hot summer had made Cloquet, Minnesota a veritable tinderbox, and on October 12, sparks from train engines ignited dry brush abutting the tracks. When high winds blew the flames to the Moose Lake-Kettle River area, 25 people died on a sharp turn on Highway 73, earning the road the moniker, "Dead Man's Curve." Ingenuity saved lives: as people covered themselves with wet dirt in plowed fields, others sought shelter in wells or root cellars (though some went on to suffocate when the fire consumed the oxygen). Cloquet, Moose Lake and Kettle River lost 453 people, 52,000 homes, and a total of 30 communities were destroyed at a cost of $7.3 million in property damage (nearly $109 million today). The Moose Lake Historical Society built a museum at the Soo Line railroad depot that honors those killed in the fires each year.