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Fire centennial

This photo taken after the 1918 fires shows the burned out remains of Cloquet City Hall and jail (back left) behind the Sommerfield store and Washington School on the right. Photo courtesy of the Carlton County Historical Society

In a 2010 Pine Journal story, the late Helen Olson recalled watching Cloquet burn as a 7-year-old from a hillside near what is now the hospital and Raiter Clinic.

"We were living in the Dunlap Island house when the fire came," Olson said. "My mother and I were standing by the sewing machine looking over (what is now USG) and three big hoops of fire came over the hill. They came quickly and looked just terrible. The first one fell on the ground, the second on the railroad tracks and the third one headed for the train. I was thinking, 'Oh, dear God, don't let them burn.' Just as it got there, the fire turned and went up the hill by the old water tower."

In terms of lives lost and property destroyed, the Oct. 12, 1918, fires have no equal in state history.

As such, a group of area historians have been meeting and collaborating for several years to plan how to mark the 100th anniversary of the fires of 1918, how to commemorate, not celebrate, such a formative and terrible event.

Carlton County Historical Society Director Rachael Martin said it simply made sense to bring area historical societies and their people together to plan.

"The fires were not just in Carlton County or Cloquet — they were more widespread," Martin said. "So if we really want to educated people about the extent of the fires, we needed to include all those communities and their historical groups."

The 1918 Fires committee is made up of historical society representatives from Cloquet, Moose Lake, Esko, Hermantown, Proctor and Superior, staff from the Cloquet Forestry Center and Pine Journal, as well as other interested residents. By working together, they've avoided scheduling overlapping events, and they're also sharing and exchanging programs. For example, Martin will travel with a living history program in which she portrays Anna Dickie Olesen, who campaigned tirelessly for fire victims in the years after the fire.

"Because we're sharing programs, then you can can learn about the fire in all these different places, not only your communities," Martin said.

That collaborative effort kicks off at the Moose Lake Area Historical Society annual meeting Thursday, Jan. 18, when Martin will perform as Olesen.

MLAHS Director Natalie Frohrip and friends will bring a program of Moose Lake fire voices to CCHS in Cloquet at 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28. That is also the day CCHS will open its 1918 Fire Exhibit.

On the subject of MLAHS, the group has commissioned a 50-foot-long mural of a train and other fire images to run the length of one of the museum's inside walls. The mural will be unveiled in April at one of the many events planned there.

It seems there will be at least one event every month of 2018, and several falling on or around the actual Oct. 12 date of the fire.

Read the Pine Journal for more news on upcoming events and historical features.