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In Focus

This month’s Independent Women book club book was Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown.

The book was a culmination of stories from those that survived this disaster. I enjoy history and I enjoyed the book. Others in the group liked it, but some didn’t care for how it was written. I cheated and listened to the audio book while I worked on making pictures, which made the writing more digestible.

The Great Hinckley Firestorm began on September 1, 1894. The summer was dry and small fires had been burning all summer. Eventually two fires combined and burned 350,000 acres, equaling more than 400 squares miles, killing at least 418 men, women, and children.

The book follows the stories of the people that lived in Hinckley and the surrounding areas. There were a lot of people mentioned in the book, so it was a little hard to keep track of everyone. There is no “main character.”

The tales are heart wrenching. The fast moving fire caught everyone off guard, and when the fire department realized there was no stopping it, people quickly packed up and tried to escape the inferno. People that were out in the woods foraging or cutting trees had no warning. The local lumber mill quickly burned as the piles of lumber were thoroughly dried from the hot, dry summer weather.

One of the most memorable stories was that of a train that was on its way to Hinckley, and made it only a mile from the station before people ran up to the train to climb aboard in hopes of escaping the flames. The train backed up but it too caught fire, barely making it to a nearby lake were people scrambled out of the train cars and into the water.

I had to remind myself this wasn’t just a story, it was real, it really happened and it made the tragedy harder to handle.

The book club agreed we would like to visit the fire museum in Hinckley and pay our respects to the over 400 people that couldn’t be identified, and were buried in four massive trenches.

The fire was a historical tragedy. It remains the largest fire recorded in Minnesota’s history, and is among the top 15 fires in U.S. history. That is saying something about the devastation.

The irony of all this was the night of our book club meeting, it was also the anniversary of the Thomas Fire that razed part of my hometown of Ventura, California. That just hit a little harder considering the topic of the book.

We all learned a little something about fires and how trees and logs can just explode. We are all probably a little more aware of the dangers of wildfires.

Overall, it was a good historical book. If you are interested in learning more about fires, the people who lived through it, and fire science, you’d enjoy this book. It also includes a map of the area at the time, and some photos from the fire, some not for the faint of heart.

We are taking a break for the holidays and getting back together next month for our Christmas party and one year anniversary of our club—even though we started in February. I have a pile of things to maybe I’ll be able to get through some of that...guess I better get started!

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