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1918 Fire story: A letter after the fire

Survivors of the 1918 fires dig a mass grave for fire victims in and around the Moose Lake area. Although the photo says 450 victims, not everyone was buried in the mass grave and some remains were likely never found as the fire burned so hot. Photo courtesy of the Carlton County Historical Society

Editor's note: Twenty-year-old Tony Hanson sent a letter to his sister Alice after the fire, telling how he and the rest of the family survived the fire that destroyed Moose Lake and killed so many on Oct. 12, 1918 and what had happened in the weeks since the fire. Source: "1918 Fire Stories" page 52, published by the Moose Lake Area Historical Society.

"Dear Sister Alice,

We received your letter the other day and will say we are all well and safe. There was some terrible sites that nite of the fire. The way pa and ma and Alindy got out of it was to get in the cold waters of Coffee Lake.

I was up town at the time of the fire. I and another fellow was in the Drug Store to buy a flash light and drive out to Kettle River to get some people that had burned out, and I was looking out the window and the sky north of town looked all one big flame, and I told the fellow I was with that I was going home. ... I ran over and got on my horse and started home. I got about ¾ mile from town and a big tree had fell across the road. By this time everything was afire — sparks were flying just like a bad snow storm. I jumped off my horse when I came to the tree and ran for the lake. Got there just in time too — people laying dead all over, very few could be recognized. Most of the dead were buried in a big trench.

Our new brick schoolhouse still stands, and they use it for a hospital now.

They are going to give us a little lumber to build a little shack and a barn. We got all kinds of clothing and plenty to eat.

We are living in a summer cottage on Coffee Lake.

Our nearest neighbors were two good old Norwegians about 70 years old. Mr. and Mrs. A Wallor. They got about one block from the lake and the fire got both of them about two blocks from where Ma and Pa and Alindy were. The flames looked as if they reached the sky, and it roared like thunder.

I cannot tell how terrible it looked out on the west side. Mothers with children in their arms all burned together. Car after car all along the road were burned and Moose Lake is under military rule. It is just covered with tents — soldiers guarding everywhere. You have to get a pass to go in and out of town.

They caught one man robbing the dead — they held a little trial and took him out and shot him. All we got is what we had on, three cows and one crippled horse. Two horses burned right in the barn.

That is about all I can think of at this time.

With love from all,

Tony

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