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September 5, 1908: Fire sweeps through Iron Range towns

On this day on the Range in 1908, a forest fire swept through several Iron Range communities, including Itasca, Carlton, Wrenshall, Buhl, Nashwauk, and Chisholm, which was almost entirely destroyed. Powered by dry conditions and strong winds, the fire actually burned for several days, obliterating the town of Snowball and threatening Hibbing, the Iron Range’s largest community. Fires burned near Virginia, but the Queen City was untouched by the flames. Millions of acres of timber was destroyed as well, and the fire spread east toward Cook County; one report even said that Grand Marais was threatened by flames, but that was likely an unrelated blaze. By the 10th newspapers reported that the blaze was under control and communities were safe and that rain had come to the parched and scorched range towns. Later eleven-year-old Leona Train of Chisholm wrote: “In the town the people rushed here and there. Some carried beds and odd pieces of furniture. In their hurry, many forgot money, jewelry, clothing, and other valuables, and only took pillows, chairs, clocks, and less important articles. A few took as much clothing as they could carry. I was so excited I jumped up and down. Mother ran upstairs and down, snatched a few things and threw them into a suit-case. Mother took a blanket on her arm for me, and we rushed out into the street, which was crowded with people hurrying away. One lady, running down the street, carried a bird cage. The bottom had fallen out, and the bird had escaped, but she clung to the cage. My cousin, Miss Chase, was staying at our house. She put on three skirts, in order to save them, and left forty-five dollars in a purse on a hall radiator. We saw one lady carrying three puppies, while two babies were crying at her skirts. The smoke was so dense that one could hardly see, and the wind nearly took us off our feet. On Lake Street there was the wildest confusion. People were hurrying about, some scantily clothed, many without coats. We went to the High School, the only brick building in Chisholm at that time. From there we could see the flames destroying the town. I can remember it well, even though it has been seven years since. It was a beautiful sight, but also a very sad one.”

Citizens of Chisholm, Minnesota, stand among its ruins following the fire of September 5, 1908. (Image: Duluth Public Library)