The threat of wildfire this summer (2017) is so extreme that for most of July the whole province has been under a state Of Emergency. Tens of thousands of people, multiple communities, have experienced evacuations. Hundreds of wildfires have happened. In this context stories of fire close to home gain special significance. This is one from the history of Grand Forks.
Structure fires are an inevitable occurrence in any city. Grand Forks is no exception to that. But the city also experienced fires that consumed whole sections of downtown streets: the first in 1908 and the second in 1911. In our ongoing reproduction of the news of 106 years ago we have come to the week of the 1911 fire (which actually took place in the morning of July 25, 1911).
Just as in the 1908 fire it was the north side of Bridge Street (now called Market) that was involved in the the blaze.
The following is the text from the front page of the July 29, 1911 Gazette.
Grand Forks Again Swept By Flames
Tuesday Morning’s Blaze Causes a Loss of $130,885 to Local Business Houses, With a Total Insurance of $63,475 — All Merchants Burned Out Are Again Opening Up In New Locations.
Just three years and fifteen days elapsed between the first serious fire in the history of Grand Forks and the second one, which occurred early Tuesday morning, while the building loss in the first fire may have been heavier than that of Tuesday, there is no doubt a much heavier business loss to the city and individuals in the fire which took place this week.
Shortly after 4 a.m. the sharp ringing of the fire alarm brought the citizens of the main portion of the town to the street, and from first appearance it looked as if the whole of the business section of the city would soon be in ashes. That the fire started in the rear of Manly’s hardware store goes without question, but how it secured such a headway before being seen is a mystery, In a few minutes Chief Savage and a willing bunch of workers had several streams of water playing on the flames, as well as on the buildings in close proximity. In fact ten streams, of water were put on from the different hydrants during the early part of the fire, and thanks to the quick and cool handling of the situation by Chief Savage and his men, the fire was controlled to practically half a block.
From Manly’s store the flames worked both ways, soon licking up the buildings on the Burns property on the corner, in which were located Chalmers’ fruit and confectionery store, Waldron’s barber shop, Tuttle’s shoe shop and Kirk’s watch repair shop, and also the meat market, while in the other direction, the Boundary Trust & Investment Co.’s office was only a matter of a few minutes, the flames soon cutting their way into Petrie’s book and stationery store. As this was a three story structure a considerable heat was caused when it took fire, and West’s restaurant, Morrison’s jewellry store, Pribilski’s barber shop, and several other buildings across the street were given a severe scorching. West’s place and the front of Morrison’s being practically ruined. In the meantime the fire was working its way up the street, through McIntyre’s hardware store, McKim’s grocery, Gardner’s furniture store, Miss Huffman’s millinery parlors, the C. P. R. telegraph office, the Mann Drug Co.’s store and the undertaking parlors of F. J. Miller.
So intense was the heat from the burning buildings on the north side of Bridge street that it was impossible for the firemen to work to save the buildings on the south side until a quantity of wet blankets bad been obtained, which were held over the nozzel men for protection. Only by this means were the flames checked where they were, although all of the plate glass windows were destroyed, and some of the structures received severe scorchings. Fire started several times on the building occupied by Clark Bros., and it looked as if the structures along the west side of First street would also be cleaned up, but thanks to an abundance of water and practically no wind, the flames were kept under control, although the heat from Burns’ butcher shop was terrific. Across on the east side of First street the Bower & Pribilski building occupied by Woodland & Co. as well as the Eastern Townships Bank building and the Yale hotel all received more or less treatment at the hands of the fire, but owing to the solid face of the two former ones, the plate glass and front doors were practically the only parts of these buildings to suffer. The Yale was in danger more than once, but fortunately the fire was checked in time. As near as can be found out at the present time the total loss will run to $130,885, with insurance placed at $63,175. A list of those suffering loss by the fire, together with their insurance, will be found on another page of this issue,
NOTES OF THE FIRE
There was a big drop in meat Tuesday morning at P. Burns’ market, Manager Gowland had placed a half car of fresh beef in stock on Monday night. When the forty gallon tank used by P. Burns & Co, for storing ammonia for use in their cold storage plant exploded, the jar was felt several blocks away, and timbers were hurled in every direction, but fortunately no one was injured,
The question of where and how the fire originated is a matter of opinion. This is the second big fire this city has experienced where the cause was not known. Isn’t it pretty near time something was being done to locate the why and wherefore of these conflagrations?
City electrician was a very busy man during the fire, and has been ever since. A large proportion of the city’s electric light system was put out of commission by the fire, but with the assistance of the Granby electricians, the system was rapidly put in a serviceable condition,
Manager Legault of the B. C. Telephone Co. deserves credit for the rapid manner in which he has had the telephone system repaired. Less than one hour after the fire started he had men arranging their outfits and equipment to come to this city and repair the loss done to the system by the fire. The large cable on Bridge street, carrying two hundred and eight wires, was melted down and had to be replaced temporarily with a cable carrying half this number of wires until a larger cable can be secured from Vancouver. Last night we were informed by Mr. Legault that all phones in the city, with one exception were in working order.
What was the matter with the electric power during part of the time the fire was raging?
When the last big fire visited the city the power line was put out of business for a short time, but we are informed on good authority that on Tuesday morning the “juice” was off for forty-five minutes. If the city is at fault it is time that the system was put in such shape that it could be depended upon in cases of this kind. If the power Co. is at fault, it is up to the city to see that it makes such arrangements that will prohibit its happening again. Thanks to having the tank full of water to start on, and the assistance of the steamer, sufficient pressure was maintained to keep the fire under control.
You can read more about this and other news of the day in the newspapers on our Old Newspapers page.