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“It was timber, not farmland, that first attracted European settler-colonists to Minnesota. On early maps of the region, the little-known northlands were marked simply “Abundant Pine.” Not the trees but the products that could be built from them, buildings, boats, civilization were the motivation for those who had already exploited eastern forests to move on to Minnesota. (Logging Industry, n.d.) Most Minnesotans would be familiar with the Hinckley Fire -- in just four hours on September 1, 1894, destroyed an estimated 480 square miles, resulting in massive destruction and over 418 deaths. Fire detection and prevention are deeply connected to the history of the Northern Minnesota as both timber and mining meant and still means money, jobs, and where people first settled and then vacationed. Firetowers were built, used, and then left as tourist destination as the work done by the mostly towermen (with a few towerwomen) came to be done by drones, high-definition infrared, and thermal imaging cameras (Fearey, n.d.) .It is easy now to check daily for fire conditions and active fires on our phones from anywhere. One hundred years ago, however, towerman (and women) studied the land for smoke and fires—caused by lightning strikes, by railroads, by people. People cause 90 percent of the fires in Minnesota which on average has 1400 fires per year, with that number increasing during drought years. Fires can occur in the prairie grasslands, deciduous forests, coniferous forest, and aspen parkland biomes of Minnesota. They are caused by unsafe brush fires, carelessly abandoned campfires, lightning strikes, and negligent smokers in federal lands, state lands, native lands, and private property. Prevention is key. Smokey Bear was and continues to be the means that kids learn about fire prevention, but controversies have unfolded around the messaging and the messenger. Natives used controlled fires, but there is no evidence early mining and forestry people sought out their advice. This paper will outline native perspectives on fire, early fire detection (including firetowers), early governmental agencies and utilization of fire prevention education. In Minnesota, the means of detecting fires and communicating fire prevention messages have changed since 1905 when the position of State Fire Marshal was created.


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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License