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August 26: Fernie Fire Affects Bismarck

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In early August, 1908, citizens of Cranbrook, British Columbia, were fighting a fire that threatened their city when news came over the wire that the Fernie-Fort Steele Brewery in nearby Fernie was on fire. Then the lines of communication went dead. Several hours later, when Cranbrook’s fire scare had mainly passed, communication was reestablish—only to learn that the fire in Fernie had spread, destroying most of the town.

Firefighters had been unable to keep up with the blaze, and in 90 minutes the town was almost all gone. A few concrete structures were saved, and some people escaped the flames by taking shelter there. Others escaped to the river or headed out on a train that was forced to retreat from yet another fire near the town of Hosmer. The passengers ended up spending the night along the river.

Fernie, home to more than 5,000 people, was gone. The town would be rebuilt, but the loss was extreme.

This news was published all across North Dakota, and as relief efforts went on, residents read about a North Dakota connection to Fernie’s misfortune.

Miss Mabel Dickerson, of Bismarck, had been visiting her father in Fernie. She had planned to go for two months, but had been there only three weeks before the fire occurred.

She quickly packed her suitcase, but the flames spread horrifically and quickly, and in the end, she was unable to escape with her luggage. She was guided along with other women and children along the railroad track, following it to get away. The flames were all around them, and their clothing kept catching fire. Mabel’s group did not suffer any loss of life, but she and many others lost all their possessions. She returned as soon as possible to North Dakota. The report read, “Bismarck always has a hand in everything. Nothing transpires in any part of the world in which someone from Bismarck does not figure.”

Her father and his companion, Tom Allshouse, formerly of Kidder County, were in a different part of Fernie, and had a different experience, but were also saved; finding shelter on a nearby mountain.

On this date, reports came of the first rain in 9 weeks to hit that dry region in Canada.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

The Grand Forks Evening Times, August 3, 1908, p1
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, August 17, 1908, p2
The Evening Times, August 26, 1908, p1

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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