Bad Day for Bad Prairie Fires
On this date in 1915, several prairie fires whipped North Dakota. A number of these fires were reported to have started from burning haystacks, and spread by wind gales up to 50 miles an hour. One local report noted: "More than 250 square miles of range were burned … several towns were threatened, one man lost his life, two others were seriously burned and thousands of dollars worth of hay, buildings, and stock were destroyed."
Minot residents could see multiple fires around them, and they assisted in fighting a fire just northeast of the city. A fire burned a field across the river from Riverside Park before sweeping away.
The town of Sawyer saw fire south and west of the town, putting the whole area at risk. The whole town, except for the local telephone operator, pulled together to save the town. They lost hay, several buildings, and a school house, but their losses could have been worse.
Burlington also was threatened, especially as a fire crept toward a tank filled with oil. Residents and fire fighters fought it off. It veered away, burning a barn of the Northern Briquetting Company and consuming 60 tons of hay.
Another fire started twenty miles southwest of Minot at Mork Lake. Citizens battled these flames until midnight. The flames went east of the lake and finally burned out. Several buildings on homesteads were lost.
A prairie fire described as nearly 25 miles wide burned near Towner. More than 700 tons of hay were burned, as well as the house and barn of a local farmer. He also lost some of his stock and his granary. His losses were estimated at more than $5000.
A report came that a fire near Freda, in Morton County, had spread to a width of five miles. It passed south of Timmer, jumping the river into Sioux County and burning property at the Standing Rock Reservation. Another fire near Solen cut the telephone lines, limiting contact with the area.
A man died fighting a prairie fire near Steele, and two men who tried to save him were burned and recovering at St. Alexius in Bismarck. There were also other reports of burns, even of facial hair being burned off.
Fires were always a risk to lives and livelihoods, one of the many dangers during early days on the plains.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 10, 1915, p1
The Ward County Independent, April 15, 1915, p1; p11
The Weekly Times-Record, Thursday, April 15, 1915
Bismarck Daily Tribune, April 10, 1915, p1