Our View: Another reminder of what fire can do
August 18, 2023
There was Cloquet, smack dab in the middle of breaking news last week. It happens too often these days, this list of "deadliest wildfires" in the wake of so many current-day versions. And so it was on the island of Maui on Aug. 8. A wildfire in paradise seems so oddly out of place. We've grown used to fires in the mainland west, but on the Hawaiian Islands? Definitely not on anyone's radar.
While the scenes and stories coming from Hawaii are otherworldly to many, we here in the north country have been hearing about such horrible holocausts for more than a hundred years.
With the city of Lahaina mostly destroyed, those who survived are having a difficult time even thinking of rebuilding. It's just too much to bear after such devastating loss. But with each passing day comes the strength to imagine a future.
It happened in Cloquet in 1918. A year after the fire, many marveled at how the city had risen from the ashes. Reports from that time were often like that, as if victims merely shrugged their shoulders, bucked up, and went on about the business of creating a new community.
They didn't talk about enduring trauma then, but we're sure it was there for so many. Each celebration of progress was likely met with much melancholy, much sense of loss.
Cloquet indeed bounced back and became the city we see today. Other places haven't been so lucky, as fire fate can wend itself to myriad places. We think of what was once a booming Hinckley to our south before its great fire in 1894. The fire there busted the town and it never became what people once thought it would be.
And there are small towns and crossroads across the region that were lost forever after fires wiped them out.
There is no doubt that Lahaina will rebuild. Maui is far too popular as a tourist destination. It is also a sacred home to generations of native Hawaiians who have no intention of living anywhere else.
For now, there is the identifying the dead, and finding them. As of Tuesday, 100 deaths were confirmed with more than 1,000 people unaccounted for.
The 1918 fires and the 1894 Great Hinckley Fire remain the second- and third-deadliest in U.S. history, behind the 1871 Pestigo fire in Wisconsin that killed 1,152 people. The fires that ripped through Carlton County and Pine County killed 453 and 418 people, though those numbers do not include many who were never accounted for or perhaps even missed.
There will be many obstacles to overcome in Hawaii. Think of the years of government wrangling following the 1918 fire, where residents didn't receive compensation until nearly two decades later.
Today, as in 1918, there are plenty of resources on the ground in the direct aftermath of the fire. We hope the help holds out. Fire victims in 1918 received financial and emotional support from caring folks across the world, and we expect the same for Maui.
You can help by sending money to organizations directly helping Maui residents: Hawaii Community Foundation, Kāko'o Maui Fund, the United Way's Maui Relief Fund or the Maui Strong Fund.
Let them know you're from Carlton County, where we know what a fire can do, and how people can overcome, and heal.