Fatal 1919 fire near Milestone helps keep others’ lives safe

Residents of Milestone may not know it, but their livelihoods are protected from fires by their firefighting team and protocols to prevent tragedies like one that struck a farm near Milestone in 1919.

Bertha Schaale lived a normal upbringing for girls on the prairies in the early 1900s. However, she now rests eternally in the Milestone Cemetery with her one-year-old son after being killed in a tragic accident.

Schaale was born in Winona, Minn. before moving North with her family to work farmland near Milestone, Sask. owned by another Winonan family, the Lekivetzes.

It was an average upbringing, one that many people in Saskatchewan have experienced. A family moving north to farm some new land in the blossoming province was nothing out of the ordinary.

Schaale married Frank Kime in December 1916 at age 22. Frank was from a farming family in Iowa, but had made the move up to Milestone in March 1911, wearing clothes fit for summer; not the typical winter gear needed in the province for that time of year.

Kime worked at a variety of farms and bounced around until finally settling down with Bertha.

Bertha Schaale with her husband Frank Kime, date unknown. (Photo from user Neil_S on findagrave.com)

Schaale gave birth to a son less than a year later in November 1917, named Frank Robert Kime. She soon became pregnant again in 1918, which led the new parents to hire outside help for Bertha in the form of a live-in nurse.

Tragically, though, Bertha and young Frank would not make it to the boy’s second birthday.

Instead, they were killed alongside the unnamed nurse after an accident involving an oil lamp.

This might have been strange, as the oil lamp used kerosene as fuel, a relatively safe, non-explosive oil distilled from coal. Kerosene lamps were incredibly common in rural areas of Saskatchewan in the early 1900s, what with the wondrous invention of electric light bulbs having not yet reached the recently confederated lands of Saskatchewan.

However, it was discovered that gasoline, a highly flammable, highly explosive fuel, had been used in the lamp instead.

This led to a massive explosion, severely burning and killing Bertha, young Frank, and their nurse on Jan. 18, 1919. Bertha was only 25 and young Frank Robert was merely one year old.

A tragic, thoughtless accident snuffed out the life of three people, only for their histories to be washed away with the sands of time.

According to From Prairie Plow Till Now, a book published in 1984 on the history of Milestone and its surrounding area, it was assumed that the nurse had accidentally put gasoline into the oil lamp. However, it is pertinent to note that elder Frank Kime met his new wife half a year later, a married woman, who divorced her husband less than a year before marrying Kime in January 1921.

Regardless, the death of Bertha Schaale and her son was a tragedy not to be ignored.

There was a set fire team in 1919, but they had limited equipment. The main firefighting tool was a fire cart that works like a modern-day fire extinguisher. Even if they had managed to haul the cart out to the farm, there would be little that could be done to help in the case of an explosion and gasoline-fueled fire.

Today, there are many different protocols and precautions in place in the province when it comes to rural fires or disasters.

There is a team of volunteer firefighters from the surrounding area, a large fire hall, and modern fire equipment. From farmers to those living in town, the volunteer team can now also rely on the regulations put into place by the Fire Service Minimum Standards Guide.

This guide outlines the requirements for local firefighting teams as outlined in the Fire Safety Act. The combination of these two guides allows for more safety and training for firefighters and fire victims in the province. This is particularly important for rural areas without full-time fire teams.

Former Kime farmland and site of 1919 fire near Milestone, Sask.

Deaths in house fires across the province are few and far between. The Saskatchewan Coroners Service houses dedicated statistics for cold exposure deaths, suicides, agricultural deaths, overdose fatalities, and water-related fatalities. None of these include fire-related deaths.

Although no one from Milestone’s firefighting team was available for comment at this time, the fact that the town has a dedicated fire hall is telling enough. However, they share a building with the Public Works employees, who are all grateful for the safety offered to residents.

There are many precautions and safety procedures put into place to prevent tragedies like that of Schaale and her son from happening again.

While residents of the town were unfamiliar with the story of Bertha Schaale, the hidden impact of the oil lamp accident lives on in the protection and safety offered to citizens of Milestone and the surrounding area by their firefighting team.

Schaale may rest easy in the Milestone Cemetery knowing that her death may have helped save the lives of many others.

Featured Image: Grave of Bertha Schaale and Frank Robert Kime in Milestone Cemetery.

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