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125 years ago, the Great Hinckley Fire became one of Minnesota’s worst natural disasters

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125 years ago, the Great Hinckley Fire became one of Minnesota’s worst natural disasters

As traffic zips by day and night, a tall granite obelisk stands sentinel on the east side of Hinckley, Minn.

It’s a silent reminder of one of Minnesota’s worst natural disasters — a wildfire that devastated Hinckley and several nearby communities 125 years ago, on Sept. 1, 1894.

The official death toll of the Great Hinckley Fire stands at 418, with many of those victims buried in mass graves beneath the obelisk. It’s a number that trails only the 1918 Cloquet-Moose Lake fire (453 deaths) among the deadliest Minnesota natural disasters on record.

The summer of 1894 was dry, dusty and smoky across east-central Minnesota. There were large slash piles, stumps and sawdust left behind by massive logging operations. Small wildfires were commonplace — almost like Mother Nature “crying wolf,” one survivor later recalled…

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