Philips, Prentice & Mason, WI Fires, Jul 1894



There They Are Surrounded by the Flames---Many Lives Believed to Have Been Lost---The Amount of Property Destroyed Amounts to Millions of Dollars--Help Asked from Neighboring Towns---Heavy Rains the Only Relief.

ASHLAND, July 28.---Northern Wisconsin is being swept by the worst forest fires in the history of the State. The losses already amount to millions of dollars, and unless rain falls speedily this enormous loss will be multiplied.

Reports indicate that several towns were burned within a radius of 100 miles of Ashland. To the south, Phillips, the county seat of Pine County, a thriving town of 2,000 inhabitants, has been swept away.

Prentice, the town next to Phillips, is burned.

Taylor County, directly south of Price, is being laid waste, and Shore's Crossing has been destroyed. The loss at Mason will exceed $1,000,000.

To the southeast, in Forest and Langlade Counties, the flames are making destructive progress.

The little town of Mason, with its big lumber mills, is destroyed, with a loss of nearly $1,000,000. The fire started in the lumber yards of the White River Lumber Company.

It is believed last night the Fifield, thirteen miles north of Phillips, was burning, but the town is safe. Telegraphic communication was cut off until late to-day. Chelsea and Whittlesy, thirty and thirty-five miles south of Phillips, also escaped.

A dozen bridges on the Omaha line have been burned, and it will take weeks to rebuild them.

Before communication with Fifield was interrupted a number of dispatches were received from there asking for aid. E. Ensign, a prominent lumberman, telegraphed for "bread and meat" to be sent down there at once, that there were 500 women and children between Fifield and Phillips without food, and that the fire was raging fiercely around them.

The Mayor and a committee are gathering supplies to send down to-day if a train can get through the flames.

Appeals for aid to fight the fire were pouring into this city yesterday. Relief trains were dispatched but in nearly every instant they encountered burned bridges and were forced to return. Being walled in by the flames, it is practically impossible to get assistance to the towns frantically asking for it. Cut off from all outside succor, heavy rains are the only source of relief. The woods are dry and the flames sweep through them as if the trees were so much kindling. As they go, they carry a menace to destruction to all the towns and farms of Northern Wisconsin.

Mr. Bartoe, whose family resides at Phillips, received the following message at 6 o'clock from Fifield: "Your wife and baby are in the woods near Phillips, without food and clothing."

He is half crazed with grief, but is unable to send any help. It is feared that many lives are lost, as with hundreds of women and children in the woods, and fires all around them, some must surely perish. The tannery and immense lumbering concerns at Phillips are among the ruins, so that the loss will be great. The Wisconsin Central passenger train, which was due here from Milwaukee yesterday is at Chelsea, unable to pass Phillips. The fire came upon Shores Crossing with terrible rapidity, and residents there lost everything they possessed.

At 10 o'clock a welcome rain began falling, the first in some days, but, unfortunately, lasted but a few minutes, so that it will not put out the fires to any extent. A freight engine with caboose has arrived from Mason, and the worst reports of fire there are confirmed. The town is all burned.

The New York Times, New York, NY 29 Jul 1894



What Pluck Has Done for a Town Destroyed by a Forest Fire.

From The Milwaukee (Wis.) Sentinel, July 26.

People who go to Phillips from all parts of the State to assist in the celebration to-morrow of the first anniversay[sic] of the great fire which completely wiped out the town will get a practical view of the energy and enterprise which have in the last few years built up so many thriving towns in Northern Wisconsin.

On Friday, July 27, 1894, the City of Phillips was entirely destroyed by fire. Thirteen of its residents were burned to death or drowned, and $1,500,000 worth of property was destroyed. Every business house in the city was reduced to ashes, and but very few houses of any kind were left unscathed. Twenty-five hundred people were left homeless in a day, and hundreds of them were left with no earthly possessions excepting the clothes on their backs. The destruction of the city was accomplished by three separate fires. The first approached from the south and burned it-self out after being partially checked by fire fighters. Again, like an irresistible monster that has been once foiled, the fire approached, this time sweeping right through the business part of the city. The third fire came from another direction, and completed the work of destruction.

Elk River, a small stream which flows through Phillips, swallowed up a number of victims. Driven by the wall of flame behind them, with no further chance of escape, some of the fugitives fled for the water. "Frank Cliss and his brother-in-law, James Locke, ran down to the river with their families," said one of the survivors. "They put their wives in the boat, which by this time was full of people. Frank pushed the boat off. Just as it started, made frantic by the fire, a dog leaped from the bank, striking the boat, and upsetting it. Mrs. Locke and some of her children were drowned on the spot. Mrs. Cliss had her three year old baby in her arms. She hung to the boat until it floated to the middle of the stream. A wave dashed over her, and she sank twice, nearly strangling. Some drowning swimmer clutched hold of her dress, and in the struggle the babe slipped from her arms, and she never saw it again. With convulsive energy she seized the boat and floated out of danger. No one will ever know just how the others died. Cliss and Locke were found at the bottom of the river, the latter with his children clasped in his arms. Locke's whole family was swept away, and were buried there in one grave.

For weeks preparations have been in progress for the celebration of the anniversary of the disaster. Immediately after the fire the leading business men of the city decided to rebuild, and temporary stores and offices were opened in shanties which were quickly put up. Then the more permanent work was begun, and before a year had passed business blocks had gone up on every hand, a new Court House and schoolhouse had been built, churches had been erected, and to-day many of the traces of the great catastrophe are gone.

The New York Times, New York, NY 29 Jul 1895