Anoka County History: Peat, grass fires kept departments busy

If you look though old issues of the Blaine newspaper, around 1972, you’ll find that grass and peat fires kept the fire department hopping. Starting in May and continuing through the summer, almost every week’s issue lists at least one or two incidents. Oftentimes children were suspected of being the instigators. Before the northern suburbs filled in, there were lots of open spaces and low-lying bogs that provided tinder for these nuisance conflagrations. One such fire-prone area was a peaty expanse on the east side of University Avenue north of 109th Avenue. Today it’s the site of Park of the Four Seasons mobile home community, but prior to 1973 when Four Seasons opened, it was a good place for fires to start.

Not long ago I talked to a former resident, who, as a child and teenager, lived in Blaine, just south of what later became the mobile home park. To the residents of the neighborhood, it seemed there was one continuous peat fire that burned for years. It would flare up, the fire department would come and put it out and it would go dormant and smolder, but before long it would flare up again. The area was posted and the police patrolled and did a good job of keeping people out, but they couldn’t be everywhere all the time.

When the smoke was at its most active, children who had been playing outside came home with stinky clothes and people kept their windows shut, even in houses without air conditioning during the summer. Folks hung their wash out to dry only when the wind was blowing from the south. My correspondent was assigned the chore of taking the clothes inside as soon as she arrived home from school, in case the wind changed. Theirs was the neighborhood with the smoke and many of their daily activities were defined by the fumes from the north.

While there was a lot of peat in the area, there wasn’t an infinite amount and eventually a good portion of it was consumed. When the plans for Four Seasons got underway, the locals liked to say, “All the peat has burned out, so now we can have a mobile home court.”

Now the former peat bog is a neighborhood of paved streets and grass lawns. Indeed, a lot of formerly ungroomed land in the northern suburbs has been transformed into development. Although grass and peat fires haven’t disappeared, they’re not as common, nor as close to residences, as they used to be. There aren’t too many places these days when a fire-prone lowland keeps an entire neighborhood indoors with the windows closed.

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