This is a fictional account of the catastrophic Cloquet Fire and its aftermath, a story that also describes a small northeastern Minnesota town's genuine concerns over World War I and the escalating Spanish flu epidemic. Home sick with the flu, Lisa Hanson falls asleep in present day Cloquet, and wakes up to find she's been transported back in time to Cloquet on the day of the fire. Everyone she meets thinks she's Liisa Maki, her grandma's oldest sister who disappeared that day and was never heard of again. Lisa, who was named after her great-aunt, has the benefit of hindsight, but is unable to do anything about the horrifying events that are about to take place. The one thing she realizes she can do is find out what happened to her great-aunt Liisa--by pretending to be Liisa.
But that's not going to be easy. The only person she recognizes is her grandma, who, at this place in time, is eight years old. Plus, Lisa is forced to play the role of a domestic servant for the McClains, one of the wealthiest families in Cloquet. How can a 14-year old girl who only knows how to cook using a microwave ever pass as a maid in 1918? But those concerns quickly disappear as it becomes obvious the fire, which started just west of town from the spark of a passing train, is getting closer and closer to Cloquet, a bustling lumber town with five busy sawmills. Lisa is determined to get herself, Liisa's friend Peder Oleson and the McClains out of town safely. From her grandma's stories, Lisa knows that most people in town didn't consider the fire a serious threat until it was too late, leaving many to escape with only the clothes on their backs. She encourages the McClains to pack extra clothes and take some of their irreplaceable belongings with them on one of the trains being readied for passengers at the town depot to take them out of harm's way. But once she, Peder and the McClains get to the depot, Lisa's gut tells her that Liisa Maki never got on the train, but instead went with Peder to rescue a very pregnant woman who had twisted her ankle earlier that day. Ada Swanson's husband and father were trying to improvise a litter to carry her to the train, the woman's mother tells them, but with little success.
Against Mrs. McClain's and Peder's strong objections, Lisa goes with Peder to the Swanson's, and helps get Ada, her husband and father to a train stop on the town's east-end using the McClain family car. They meet what turns out to be the last train out of town. By this time, the west-end of town, including the depot, is in flames. Lisa and Peder join the Swansons in a boxcar and together they take a slow and frightening journey by train through choking black smoke, airborne embers and blistering flames. Several times during the trip, the train stops and the male passengers disembark to clear the tracks ahead of burning debris. During one of these stops, Ada goes into labor and Peder injures his eye. When the train finally reaches Carlton, a small nearby town miraculously skipped by the fire, Ada is taken to the local hospital where a small, overwhelmed medical staff is handling emergency cases. Peder, however, is encouraged to stay on the train to Superior, where doctors are seeing less critical patients. In Superior, Lisa discovers that her grandma's family is listed among the dead. She knows that's not true, but with all the phone and telegraph lines gone, and no homes or town to return to, realizes Liisa wouldn't have known unless she'd made a special trip back to the family farm to find out for herself. When Lisa finally wakes again in her own time, she believes she's solved the mystery of what happened to her great-aunt Liisa, and discovers several surprising links between her family and her new/old friend, Ada Swanson.
This report prepared by Pamela J. Erickson