Great Hinckley Fire

The Great Hinckley Fire was a major conflagration on September 1, 1894, which burned an area of 420 square miles (1,100 km2) centered on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota.

The fire killed hundreds, with the minimum number estimated at 418. However, some scholars believe the actual figure to be nearly 800. This was the second-deadliest fire in the history of Minnesota, surpassed only by the 1918 Cloquet Fire.

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 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.

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.