LUMBER TOWNS IN THE NORTHWEST.
All the lumber towns of the Northwest will burn up. If there are any exceptions to this rule applying to the lumbering towns of the Northwest it may be confidently stated that their turn has not come jet. Ontonagon the other day was literally wiped off the face of the earth, and her 2,000 souls left without food or shelter. A few months ago it was L’Anse, not seventy miles away, which was obliterated. Before that Phillips, Hinckley, Sandstone, and a dozen other Minnesota and Wisconsin lumbering towns were destroyed, with terrible loss of life. Three years ago it was Virginia, Merritt, and Mountain Iron, on the Mesaba range. Twentylive jears ago I’cshtigo, Marinette, Menominee, Pensaukec, Michigamme, and others suffered. Not a year passes but shows one or more villages, or even embryo cities that have built upon a sawdust foundation, burned to the ground—the turn of the others is coming.
The story of the destruction of one might be the story of of the destruction of all; the details differ; but the main facts are ever the same. Given a town built of lumber, founded on sawdust, and girt with mills and lumber piles, the other accessories of the tragedy will always tie forthcoming. All that is needed for a conflagration, which often proves a holocaust, is a “bush fire” in some swamp near the place, a favoring wind— and in a few short hours where stood a prosperous town is naught but smouldering ruins, with a few bodies among the coals.
They have adequate fire protection—as nearly adequate as possible. The full department of New York or Chicago, with all their steamers and all their brave men, could not have saved Ontonagon after the flames caught among the 65,000,000 feet of dry lumber piled along both banks of the river. The mills of the Diamond Match Company were famous for their perfection in detail. Its mills were considered favorable risks among insurance men. Possibly the destruction was delayed half an hour by the heroic work of the village and mill firemen—that is the most that can be said— and it is milch to say when the nature of the fight is considered. To those who have not lived in the pine country, a proper understanding of the dangers and ravenous fierceness of a forest fire is denied. Only those who have fought and been conquered by the devouring element can comprehend its power and sweep. But for the kindness of Nature,which takes with one hand and gives with the other, the great forest area of the Northwest must have been denuded long ago. Jupiter Pluvius possesses the only fire department fully capable of coping with a great forest conflagration.
There is probably but one measure that can protect the lumber towns from forest fires. Were a stripof ground at least half a mile in width cleared thoroughly about the entire place, immunity might be secured. The mere cutting down of the trees would not suffice, as it would be necessary to clear the ground of underbrush and stumps and even of the great branching roots of the pine, filled with resin, which carry the fire underneath the surface of the soil. This plan is costly, and the continued growth of the towns would render Its repetition necessary.
The lumber mill towns of the pine districts are, as a rule, built not only through lumber, but of lumber, and upon sawdust also in many cases. The buildings burn in an incredibly short time; but, were they of brick or stone, they would go down almost as quickly, with millions ol feet of dry lumber behind them to feed the flames. At Ontonagon the fine threestory brick store of the Diamond Match Company wax apparently burned almost as quickly as its wooden neighbors.