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1914 - Teacher and Three Children Burn in Terrible Prairie Fire; Three Others May Die and Flames Are Still Raging
School Children Near Belfield Try to Escape From the Path of Seething Flames Fanned by Thirty-Mile Gale; Bodies Found Huddled Together Only Four Rods From Where They Would Have Been Safe.
Dickinson, N. D., Nov. 6. The worst prairie fire tragedy in the history of this country occurred this afternoon, when a teacher and three pupils of a country school were burned to death, and three other children so badly burned that their death is only a question of hours.
The fire was started some 17 miles southwest of Belfield, about noon, by a threshing outfit, which was moving to a new setting, and, fanned into a devastating flame by a 30-mile gale, swept on to claim a terrible toll of life and property.
Saw Fire Coming.
About 1 o’clock, Miss Gladys HOLLISTER and her little flock of 12 school children in the Davis school, 12 miles southwest of Belfield, saw the fire, about five miles away, coming up the valley towards them. Frantic with fright, they left the building, which tonight stands uninjured and which would have kept them safe while the fire demon swept by, and made superhuman efforts to reach a plowed field, which they thought was their only salvation. Five children, living in a direction away from the path of the fire, succeeded in reaching home.
Four Rode From Safety.
Their teacher and six little comrades struggled on, now falling, overcome by fear and smoke, then up and stumbling on again. But the dense smoke enveloped them and they were found huddled together, only four rods from the plowed ground, and safety. Three children were dead when found and three terribly burned. Their clothes were completely burned off. Miss HOLLISTER, who was in a most pitiable condition, with 90 per center of the skin of her body burned, was unconscious, but regained consciousness long enough to say that she realized she made a mistake in leaving the school house, but did what she thought was best.
Doctors were rushed from Belfield and two of the three living children were taken there, but there is little hope for any of the three.
The dead and injured are:
Two children of William MENGE, one dead.
Two children of William PIKE, one dead.
One child of Vern SMITH, life despaired of.
One child of C. H. GEARY, dead.
Miss Gladys HOLLISTER, teacher, dead.
All the children were between 6 and 12 years old. Miss HOLLISTER, 22 years old, has been a popular teacher of the country for two or three years and was a sister-in-law of Robert GRAY, a farmer, residing three miles from Belfield. Frank DAVIS, an uncle of some of the children, struggled heroically to avert the tragedy and is himself in a critical condition.
Flames Still Rage.
Thousands of acres of valuable grass lands have been burned and the flames are still sweeping on in spite of the frantic efforts of men, women and children to stay their course. The wind did not go down with the sun and is still blowing 25 miles an hour, so that the property toll will be enormous. Plowed fields to turn the fire and slacken its fury is the only hope.
Bismarck Daily Tribune
Bismarck, North Dakota
November 7, 1914
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