1918 Fires Remembered at SLC Board Meeting

Taylor Holt
Updated: October 09, 2018 06:47 PM

It's been 100 years since fires tore through destroying many communities throughout the Northland, in what's known as the worst natural disaster in Minnesota's history.  Tuesday's St. Louis County's board meeting was dedicated to remembering the tragic event.

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 "History matters," said Bob Swanstrom, Chairman of the Hermantown Historical Center to a crowd at the meeting, as he told the story of the 1918 fires.

"The fires of 1918 started October 12th, which was a Saturday," he added. "The conditions for a perfect storm presented themselves. There were two years of extreme drought, humidity plummeted, the logging industry did not clean up after themselves."

Swanstrom says that day those and several other factors would create the tragedy.

"Winds picked up 75 miles an hour, and with all these conditions and there was about 50 to 75 fires that then merged and created this big inferno that zigged and zagged its' way across the Northland. Some communities were sparred, some weren't," said Swanstrom.

The result back then was an estimated $30 million in damages. What that equates to today would be $1.7 billion, according to SLC officials at Tuesday's meeting. In addition, 453 lives were lost that were accounted for.

"And you throw in the Spanish flu pandemic, and everyone had to come together like in the Duluth Armory, the YMCA, the Masonic Temple," said Swanstrom. 

100 years later, he says the impacts are still seen in some places.

"If you go out in some of the woods, you'll still see some charred trees," said Swanstrom.

However, he says the biggest takeaway is the lessons that can be learned from tragedy.

"I think it's caused us to take a look at our logging practices, and safety with the railroads," said Swanstrom. "I think it's important to know historical facts. It gives you an appreciation for what you have now and what these people went through."

There will be several community events in remembrance of the 1918 fires being held in the next couple of months. 


Taylor Holt

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