100 Years Ago

Feb. 26, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS, MN: MARCH 5, 1911 — A major fire swept the Syndicate Block on Nicollet Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets early in the morning. The alarm was raised when a passerby saw flames shooting from the second floor of the landmark Syndicate Building, built in 1882. The huge, five-story building housed apartments on the upper floors and several large commercial occupancies, including the Model Clothing Co., Minneapolis Dry Goods, Woolworth & Co. and a number of other tenants. Before firemen could arrive, people began calling for help from smoke-filled second- and third-floor windows. As soon as firemen arrived, ladders were thrown and a massive search and rescue operation started. One tenant jumped through a sheet of flames to a fire escape to save himself. Firemen rescued 12 people from the blazing structure, but sadly two women were reported lost in the flames. Firemen from St. Paul responded and helped control the fire by noon.

NEW YORK CITY: MARCH 7, 1911 — A large commercial building undergoing renovations at Third Avenue and 59th Street caught fire and required the response of four alarms to control. Flames raced up the exterior scaffolding, spreading fire from floor to floor inside and outside the large L-shaped structure. The street in front of the fire building was also under construction and covered with holes and trenches due to the installation of trolley car tracks. Arriving units struggled to get rigs and lines into position around this maze of construction. Within minutes, the building was fully involved and spreading to two intersecting elevated subway lines. A wave of embers and sparks also showered the roof the Bloomingdale's department store across the street, adding to the exposure problems. Hoselines were hurried to the platforms of the elevated rail lines and firemen pressed the flames back as additional large-caliber equipment was positioned in the street. At one point, the roof of the train station was ablaze and nozzle teams held their positions as truck company members pulled down the blazing materials around them. Under the guidance of the new searchlight unit, water towers and high-pressure hose wagons directed their large streams effectively into the burning building. Chief Edward Croker also showed the new mayor how fires were fought at night using the newest equipment.

STAUNTON, VA: MARCH 21, 1911 — Flames broke out in a livery stable and spread quickly to the adjoining buildings. Firefighters battling the flames realized the fire had gained too much headway and help was requested from Charlottesville, Clifton Forge and Harrisonburg. At the height of the fire, flames jumped Johnson Street, destroying telegraph wires and threatening the entire town. Staunton was filled with many beautiful 18th- and 19th-century homes and buildings that had escaped the Civil War unscathed. By the time the fire was extinguished, an entire block had been destroyed with a loss of $300,000.

FAYETTE, AL: MARCH 24, 1911 — A leaking gas stove in the Peters and Young Drug Store sparked a fire that was quickly out of control. Within minutes, the blaze extended along Temple Avenue. Flames soon filled the new courthouse and jail, a new hotel, a bank, the Masonic Temple and a warehouse filled with more than 350 bales of cotton. The fire continued most of the day and burned everything in its path. A plaque now stands outside the old train depot stating Fayette had the distinction of having three courthouses destroyed by fire, in 1854, 1866 and 1911. The 1911 fire destroyed every downtown building except the train depot.

PAUL HASHAGEN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY: The Bravest, An Illustrated History 1865–2002, the official history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service books. His latest novel, Fire of God, is available at dmcfirebooks.com.

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