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October 12, 1918: The Cloquet Fire of 1918

On this day in 1918, a fire that started near Cloquet blazed through the region, eventually sweeping through Duluth. The fire is considered the worst natural disaster in the history of Minnesota: 453 people were killed and 52,000 injured or displaced. The fire damaged 38 communities (and destroyed most of Cloquet and all of Moose Lake, Brookston, and Arnold), 250,000 acres of land, creating an estimated $73 million in property damage. It is thought that the conflagration began after sparks from a passenger train ignited overly dry grasses and piles of wood. The fire was fueled by dry conditions and strong winds—and a lack of firefighting equipment. It burned for three days, moving north and east into southern St. Louis County. It swept around the outskirts of Duluth and into the city proper, destroying Duluth’s Homecroft School, the clubhouse at the Northland Country Club and many other structures. Extra effort resulted in saving several key facilities, including the St. James Catholic Orphanage and the Nopeming Sanatorium, which was the home of about 200 tuberculosis patients at the time. The 1915 Duluth National Guard Armory served as a refuge center.

Duluth’s Homecroft School was destroyed by the Cloquet Fire of 1918. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)