Jamestown, ND area wild fires, Sept 1891


Prairies in the Dakotas Scorched by Sun and Fire.

JAMESTOWN, N. D., Sept. 18. - The terrible heat of the past few days has scorched every stubble field and hay range in the state until the faintest spark is sufficient to start a sudden and almost unquenchable fire. The hot winds fan into life the smoldering embers of fields already burned over, carrying the sparks onto unburned territory, there to renew their work of destruction. Intense anxiety exists throughout the state at this time over the danger to crops and lives as well. In this county alone over $1,000,000 worth of wheat lies exposed to fire, which may be ignited now from the slightest cause. Grain is so heavy that it is thrashed but slowly, while not half enough help and machines are here to do the work. The grain stands in shocks all over the state and, strange as it seems, almost wholly unprotected by plowed fire guards. Little stacking has been done. Farmers appear to be trusting to luck.

A man lighting a pipe threw the match away one day this week, thereby starting a fire that took hours to extinguish, and only the fortunate presence of a thrashing crew saved large loss. A chicken hunter's burning gunwad lighted another fire that required the all-night work of the neighborhood to put out. It spread, despite all efforts, into La Moure County and burned over several miles of valuable hay ranges. Reports of small fires are coming in hourly. The sun of the last few days has made grass like tinder.

The flames are of a most furious character when started, and almost impossible to extinguish. A wall of fire twenty feet high, advancing with terrible rapidity, with suffocating smoke and clouds of flying cinders overwhelming the brave farmers intent on saving their crops and homes, has been a not infrequent spectacle in the country west of here during the past few days. From Emmons County comes the report of disastrous fires, but mails have been delayed from Williamsport, and the exact amount of damage is not known. Williamsport was saved from destruction by a sudden change in the wind. Near Lisbon thousands of acres of wheat have been destroyed. The next few days here are regarded with positive fear of some extended disaster to life as well as property. Small fires, checked by prompt action of neighbors, have already ruined many farmers in the Jim River Valley. Prairie fires are liable to cause more loss of wheat in this state than frost and heat combined.

From all over the state come reports of unusual heat for this season of the year, in some instances the mercury exceeding 100 degrees. This afternoon at 2:30 the thermometer registered 98 degrees in the shade. Lewis Johnson, a resident of East Sioux Falls, was discovered in an unconscious condition from the effects of a sunstroke, and died within twenty minutes after being found. At Huron the mercury ranged from 92 to 93 in the shade, with several cases of prostration reported. Unable to work in the sun, farmers are thrashing grain by moonlight.

The Chicago Herald, Chicago, IL 19 Sept 1891