A prairie grass fire is a beautiful thing to watch at night, as long as you are on the upwind side. Hundreds of years ago the sight of an approaching fire terrified Indians and Whites alike. The speed of its advance depended on the time of the year and the speed of the wind.
If you could not get around either side and find safety in the burned grass, the best thing to do would be to head for the river or a nearby lake. The history books are filled with the details of fires many miles wide and a hundred miles long.
Indians set the fires to deprive the buffalo of food and control were they fed, so they could be hunted. The Blackfeet Indians in Southern Alberta got their name from walking across the burnt prairie.
When the first settlers arrived on the prairie, trees were limited to along the rivers. The regular prairie fires killed anything but grass. Prairie grass had dense roots that went ten or more feet into the ground. Any new seedlings of other plants or trees that did penetrate the grass roots, were killed by fire.
There are many old photos in the Kittson County Museum taken of homesteaders working on their farmers and there are no trees in the background for miles.
Our county has a unique type of oak tree called a Burr Oak. It has a very thick cork like bark that protects the trees, young and old, and allows them to survive a prairie fire. To this day Burr Oak still grow in dense groves all along the river banks.