U. P. Forest Fire of 1906



Worst Forest Fires Since the Peshtigo Disaster of 1887 Has Spent Its Rage--If a New Gale Arises, Smoldering Flames Will Again Be Fanned Into All-Destroying Fury Scenes of Horror and Despair Enacted In Stricken Area

Summary of Disaster In Northern Michigan

Four Persons known to be dead, scores of missing and hundreds of families homeless. Four towns entirely wiped out and a dozen more partially. Five counties devastated and 100 square miles of territory swept by wave of flame. It is believed the property loss will aggregate several millions of dollars

ESCANABA, Mich., May 19--Four known dead, scores of persons missing, hundreds of families homeless, several millions of dollars of property burned, four towns wiped out entirely and a dozen more partially, five counties devastated and 100 square miles of territory fire swept. This is the dreadful picture that the northern Michigan peninsula presents today after the worst forest fire since the Peshtigo disaster of 1887, has spent its fury. General Superintendent W.E. Wells, of the Escanaba & Lake Superior road, along which right of way the greatest loss occurred, returned tonight from a trip of inspection over the fire stricken area and says that the flames have gone down and for the time being the danger is over unless a new gale arises to again fan the smoldering flames into another wall of fire. The following summary briefly tells the story:

The dead:

PETER LaFOND, a cook, smothered in a lumber camp neat Kates; body found tonight.

THREE UNKNOWN CHILDREN dead at Quinnesec, Mich., separated from their parents while the village wa s burning and perished.

Scores of homesteaders and woodsmen are missing and many have probably perished in the flames.

Territory, devastated, five counties, Marquette, Menominee, Delta, Alger, and Dickinson.

The territory fire swept is 100 miles square.

Towns totally burned: Talbot, Mich., 300 population, only a few houses left standing.

Quinnesec, Mich., 400 population; only one house remains.

Saunders, 150 population; all wiped out.

Niagara, Wis., 300 population; all wiped out.

Towns partially destroyed: Northland, Cornell, Antoine, Spring Valley, Kingsley, Woodlawn, Foster City, Salva and Metropolitan.

Refugees Coming In

Details of the fire are gradually coming out of the burned territory. All day long refugees and trailmen have been coming in, telling tales of misery and suffering as well as heroism and brave deeds that were enacted while the fire was at its height. The reports all show that the fire was fully as serious as first reported. The burned over district extends from a point 10 miles out of Escanaba to Talbot on the south to Channing and Quinnesec on the west, Sands on the north and back to Escanaba.

While this territory has not been swept over entirely, the major portion of it north of the North-Western line has. South of the line it burned in spots. The flames were fiercest along the Escanaba & Lake Superior line.

Danger Not Apparent

It is in this district that a thousand or more small fires have been smoldering for weeks. Nothing was thought of these fires because they were not dangerous, but it only needed a wind to fan them into a mighty sheet of flame. This wind came on Friday afternoon and the world already knows the result.

Toward noon the wind began to blow from the west at the rate of 30 miles an hour. By 2 o'clock the velocity was 40 miles and by 4 o'clock the small fires seemed to have united into one large one that extended over a 50-mile stretch and swept along with a fury that no human hand could stay.

Could Not Be Fought

The flames seemed to center from a place called Northland and from there swept down toward Escanaba. Throughout the territory hundreds of woodsmen were put to work to stay the fire, but it could not be fought. It marched on and it was only by diverting its paths that some of the towns were saved. First to be driven were the woodsmen in camp and the homesteaders. Hundreds of small and prosperous farms abound in the territory and the occupants of these hurried to the nearest towns for shelter. Cattle and stock and houses and barns and their contents were left for the flames. Wagons were hurriedly loaded with personal effects and the race against the flames began. In some instances whole families came in. Many, however, reported that some of its members had been separated and left behind and it is the fate of these that concerns most everybody. The flames came in as fast as the refugees.

Hard Fight for Life

The latter then, with the people of the towns, turned out to help save the villages, and a desperate fight it was. Some of the towns were hemmed in on all sides and it was either save the towns or burn up. Talbot and Quinnesec are the most notable examples. At both towns a hard fight was put up, but in the end the places had to be abandoned.

Water was Scarce

There was little that human effort could do to check the flames. Water was scarce and even when it was plentiful it was of no avail in combating the flames. Hundreds of woodsmen fought in spots throughout the district. Step by step they would back up, trying at each stand to back fire the flames. Clearings were burned over with fires that could not be controlled. Then when the flames reached there they found nothing more to consume. In this manner many of the towns in the path of the conflagration were saved.

The heat was intense and the smoke stifling. As many women and children as possible were then hurried to places of safety, while the men remained to fight the fire.

Everything a Greenish Hue

While scenes of horror and despair were being enacted in the fire stricken territory there was also a panic in neighboring cities miles from the fire line. The wind from the west and north blew the smoke into Escanaba. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon the city seemed in darkness. A heavy veil of smoke overhung the entire surrounding county. Everything was of a greenish hue, the smoke stifling, women and children in a panic. It is said that owners of vessels prepared to get ready to put out in the bay while those living on the outskirts packed their belongings prepared to flee at a moment's notice. Most of the refugees were taken back today when it was reported that the fires had died down, but most of them found nothing when they found the spot where their home had stood.

Flames Lose Their Fury

Gradually the wind died down and this morning it shifted and the flames began to lose their fury, but the fires are not out. They still smolder and while they are not spreading it will only need a fresh wind to start them again in all their fury. As far as the eye can see there is smoke.

Talbot fought hard to ward off the flames but it failed. A section of houses and an entire train was burned.

The people rushed down the railroad tracks to Daggett, but the flames seemed to keep pace with the refugees.

Daggett had sent a fire engine to Talbot, but even this was burned up, Daggett managed to save itself because of the shifting of the wind.

Quinnesec is Isolated

Quinnesec is still isolated from this end and cannot be reached. Trainmen say the entire town is gone. Most of the people have gone to Iron Mountain. A number of fires are still raging between Powers and Quinnesec and to the south of these places.

Another fatality was reported tonight from Kates, a lumber camp on the Escanaba & Lake Superior line. William White, foreman of the lumber camp at Kates came into Wells tonight and told a graphic story of how a hundred men had been hemmed in by the fire while they nearly all lost their lives.

"We had gone some distance from the camp," said Mr. White, "when at noon we were suddenly surprised to see the fire all around us. When the men saw their danger they became panic stricken. Flames seemed to be all around us. I told them to keep cool and to follow me and all would be well. Out of the 100 only six paid any attention to me. They scattered in all directions, a party of about 50 found an opening through the woods and headed for a small lake which has an island in the middle. They manage to make their way to the island and found shelter there in dug outs until the flames had reached the lake and died out. How the others ever found their way to places of safety is a puzzle to me. But all saved themselves except one. Peter LaFond, an assistant cook. Instead of leaving the camp, LaFond crawled into a small building; when the fire came along it burned off the door and the cook was suffocated by the dense smoke and gas of the fire."

William Wells, general superintendent of the Escanaba & Lake Superior railroad came in from a tour inspection of the burned district. He said:

Woodsmen Do Noble Work

"The losses will not be as heavy as I had anticipated but they will e serious nevertheless. The woodsmen throughout the region have done noble work and I cannot speak too highly of their efforts. But for their hard battle, many of the towns would have been burned entirely.

"I had rather an exciting time of it at Cornell. I had taken a relief train out there and the moment the train arrived, men, women and children made a rush for it and discontinued their efforts to check the fire. There was almost a riot. The men and women almost stormed the train, but I told them that I was either going to save the town or let the train burn up with it. When they saw I meant it, they went back to work and the town was practically saved, only half a dozen houses were burned. It goes to show under what strain the fires were fought."

The fire drove all the wild animals out of the woods and many of them too shelter on the right of way of the road where the fire usually was checked.

A pathetic incident is related of the family of Joseph Zeglis in whose little home near Waldron, was a dead babe in a casket, ready for burial. The flames drove the family to a relief train on which the casket was loaded and the little one laid to rest in a neighboring town which the fire did not reach.

It is impossible to estimate the losses but it will be above the million dollar mark, much of which is to standing timber.

Among the heavy individual losers are those of the Isaac Stephenson company, the Escanaba & Lake Superior company, each $50,000 in equipment and lumber stock, not counting any losses to standing timber or houses burned in the various camps. John Duncan, a jobber, lost $30,000 at Kingsley and the Kellogg Switchboard & Supply company $10,000.

[Duluth News-Tribune, May 20, 1906]