My grandmother once rode a train through the middle of a forest fire. I heard the story second-hand from my dad. The family settled in Alpena, he told me, and never returned home to Tower, Michigan. Grandma was four years old. She was born in 1904.
Tower is about 15 miles west of Millersburg, 30 miles west of Metz, 60 miles northwest of Alpena, which overlooks Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay. A branch of the Detroit & Mackinaw railroad once connected these towns.
On October 15, 1908, a fire started somewhere west of Millersburg and raged over northeastern Lower Michigan, burning all the way to Lake Huron. The fire ultimately destroyed 2.5 million acres and incinerated the village of Metz.
Is it possible this was the fire my grandmother and family fled, on an earlier train? These thoughts and other questions set me to researching the event a few years back. Some of the accounts gave me nightmares. I dared to start a novel but didn’t dare myself to continue writing. I tucked the first pages away in a box.
My husband and I visited Metz, what there is of it, this past summer. I’m telling a bit of the story over at Tweetspeak Poetry today. It’s a piece that was originally supposed to run last month, but had to be rescheduled. October 15 will be the 109th anniversary of this fire, and this week flames are raging over northern California.
Note: Yes, I’m still here. There’s been a delay in revamping this space and my focus. I’m still working on it. Please stand by.