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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/604

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE LESSON OF THE FOREST FIRES.
By BELA HUBBARD, LL. D.

VOYAGERS on the upper lakes in August last were involved in clouds of smoke which settled over the waters. These were often so dense as to render navigation dangerous and to occasion frequent collisions. They obscured the sun, which appeared a dull red ball in the sky. This smoke extended as far east as the Atlantic and south to Georgia. The cause was soon apparent: forest fires were raging in the lands about the lakes.

By these fires in lower Michigan property to the extent of thousands of dollars was destroyed; in the Upper Peninsula the burned area is reported at over one thousand square miles.

But these devastations were insignificant compared with those in Wisconsin and Minnesota, in each of which States the losses amount to many millions of dollars. In Wisconsin the areas burned over ranged from fifty to one hundred and forty miles in extent. Individual lumbermen lost in standing pine from ten thousand to five hundred thousand dollars. All this was accompanied with the destruction of entire villages and crops as well as great loss of human life. A witness reports, "The bodies which dot the heated and black expanse give the scene the appearance of a battlefield."

From Minnesota the news is even more appalling. Between Pine City and Carleton, a distance of one hundred and thirty miles, whole towns were swept out of existence. In one alone, Hinckley, at least two hundred people perished. Nineteen villages are wholly or partially destroyed, and many million feet of lumber. It is fairly computed that in this State alone five thousand square miles in area have been thus devastated. Minnesota contains about seventy thousand square miles; supposing two thirds of this area to be timbered land, one may count on the fingers of his two hands how many years of such devastation will deprive this State of every vestige of its timber.

Terrible as has been the destruction from forest fires in 1894, the phenomena to which it has borne witness have been by no means unprecedented in our history during the last half century. I will recall those of a single year only.

The present generation can not have forgotten the year 1871, made memorable by the great fire in Chicago, preceded by forest fires in Wisconsin and Minnesota and followed by similar fires in Michigan. From July to November, a period of five months, the rainfall in the latter State did not exceed six inches, and the entire precipitation of the year was only two thirds the normal amount. Early in October disastrous fires overspread portions of Wisconsin