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Fires at L'anse and Ontonagon Michigan 1896

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Fires at L'Anse and Ontonagon Michigan 1896
In May of 1896, fire wiped out much of the downtown business district at L'Anse. Months later in August, neighboring Ontonagon was wiped out by fire.

These are their stories.

Written by Mike Joki

 48 pages.

 

...begin sample page...
 

changed direction.  Still nothing. Nothing but smoke and heat. – and fear.

He tried to tell himself not to panic but as the heat and the smoke wrapped tighter around him like a sour blanket he had the urge to run. Again he moved.  Again nothing.

Eyes clenched tight against the smoke, his arms flailing about in front of him, he continued to search for his escape.  Every breath was an invitation to suffocation, and with each step the urge to run became greater.  He knew in his mind he’d likely run right off the roof, but soon it wouldn’t matter. If he didn’t get off this roof soon he was dead anyway.

“So this is how it ends?” he wondered. “This is what it all comes to?”

Then in the middle of what he was certain would be one of his last thoughts, the sound came.  A voice.

“You there pa?” the voice shouted, and the nearness of it made Heard jump. 

“That you boy?” Heard gasped and coughed as he tried to open his eyes to see.  There was suddenly a hand on his arm.

“This way pa” the voice said between coughing spells.

Slapping at a hot spot on his leg, the elder Heard grabbed his sons arm and followed him to the opening and down into the building. “We’ve got to hurry pa” the boy said as he led the way to the stairs.  The stairwell itself was getting hot and smoky, but it was nowhere near as bad as the roof.

“Everyone else is out” the boy said as he took his fathers arm to lead him.  “We’re the last ones, and we’ve got to hurry.”

Through blurred and swollen eyes Heard saw his son in front of him and gave him a nudge.  “Run boy” he said as they neared the bottom of the stairs.  “I’m right behind you.”

As they spilled out onto the lawn, whatever sense of relief he’d had coming down from the roof was stripped away as the sights and sounds of the inferno raged around him.  The air as ground level wasn’t much better than that on the roof.  “It was so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face at times” he’d remember later.  “There must have been hundreds of people on the streets, running.  Most times you could hear them more than see them.  Women and children screaming.

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