Fire is always a frightening threat in Minnesota. The Hinckley Fire in 1894 and the Cloquet Fire in 1918 devastated land and destroyed lives in North Central Minnesota. Just these two fires killed nearly 1000 people and caused property losses in the millions of dollars.
Fire also threatened small, isolated farms throughout Minnesota. The newspaper columns carried numbers of reports on devastating farm fires. April 1895, Sherburne County newspapers reported a significant fire at the farm of Chris Leider, Livonia Township. “His house and nearly all of its contents,” were destroyed by fire. “A granary and about 300 bushels of wheat which was kept over from the crop of three years ago were also destroyed. The insurance had just run out, and as a consequence the loss is total.” A few months later fire destroyed a second Livonia farm site. The newspapers printed the terrible final news “no insurance.”
Unfortunately, the reports around the county reveal fire as the enemy of communities as well as the farmers. 1895 fire destroyed three buildings in Clearwater. The post office occupied one of the buildings consumed. Not as devastating as the Cloquet or the Hinckley fires, Elk River business district was incinerated in the summer of 1915.
Until the 1920s, reports of fire take up pages of news print. Fire threatened every individual in Minnesota, during the early days of settlement. Up until the installation of modern equipment, no community felt safe from the devastation that enveloped Hinckley and Cloquet, and very nearly destroyed Elk River.
This photo is the burned out skeleton of the Elk River Ice House, dated around 1910.