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POST-WAR HOTEL FIRES
Evacuation at LaSalle Hotel fire in Chicago
In the years following World
War Two, the U.S. hotel industry suffered a spate of deadly fires, with three
of the worst striking in 1946 -- Canfield Hotel in Dubuque, Iowa, 19 dead; LaSalle
Hotel in Chicago, 61 dead; Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta, 119 dead.
Hotels of that era were plagued by a lack of maintenance and investment owing to the Great Depression and shortages of building supplies and other material during the war.
Many hotels were serviced by open stairwells, allowing for the swift spread of smoke and flame. Buildings lacked sprinklers and adequate fire exits. Open transoms over guest room doors were common as were varnished hallways and lobbies.
In the Rocky Mountain region, a fire at the Jackson Hotel in Laramie, Wyoming, claimed six lives on March 15, 1955. Three people died and six were injured in a downtown Denver hotel fire, at 17th and Market streets, on Aug. 26, 1950. A blaze at the Albany Hotel, also in downtown Denver, killed a waitress and injured 50 others, on Sept. 2, 1962.
At the Jackson Hotel in Laramie, some residents were forced to escape through windows - or jump. Survivor Alfred Warner said: "The stairs were a sheet of flame. I climbed out the window and hung onto the hotel sign." The hotel was built in the early 1900s and occupied the second floor of a two-story brick building.
Laramie Fire Chief Blake Fanning said there were about 25-30 people in the hotel and that the blaze apparently started in the lobby. (Among the dead was retired rodeo rider Ed "Boots" Smith, who toured Europe in the early 1900s as a member of the Buffalo Bill Cody and Gandy Brothers Wild West shows.)
The demise of American cities in the 1970s led to the decline of once respectable hotels. On April 10, 1974, fire killed three people at the three-story Lewiston Hotel, a refuge for transients in downtown Denver. About a dozen other were injured. The hotel's fire doors were "blocked open."
MOFFAT TUNNEL - 1943
Photo: Denver Fire Dept.
On Sept. 20, 1943, three members of the Denver Fire Department died in a fire in Tunnel No. 10 of the Moffat Tunnel Rail Line, near Rollinsville, Colorado.
Following is from Sept. 21, 1943, edition of Denver Post:
THREE DENVER FIREMEN KILLED BATTLING RAIL TUNNEL BLAZE
Meet Death in Bore on Moffat Road, Probably from Suffocation; Body of Only One is Recovered
Three Denver city firemen died Monday night fighting a fire in the timbered walls of a 1600 foot Denver and Salt Lake railroad tunnel, twenty-seven miles northwest of Denver.
The dead, according to Fire Chief Healy, are Douglas Vernon Parrish, 49, of 340 Clarkson street, machinist in the fire department shops; James Williams, 37, of 1209 East Colfax avenue, Chief Healy's driver, and John Kennedy, 34, of 665 Lafayette street. All were married and two were fathers.
Parrish's body was recovered just inside the east portal of the tunnel, but fire department officials said it is unlikely any trace ever will be found of the other two men.
TUNNEL STILL ROARING FURNACE.
At noon Tuesday the tunnel was still a roaring furnace, filled with poisonous flumes. A pumper truck the Denver men had accompanied to the scene was pouring a stream of water in the east end, and a locomotive was doing the same at the west end.
Men still could not approach the entrances.
Fire Capt. William R. Parry in command of the Denver men and pumper, was saved only by accident, because his gas mask was working improperly and he left the tunnel to get another. The pumper, one of Denver's newest, was loaded on a flatcar and taken to the scene with its crew in response to a call for help about 6:30 p.m. There is no road highway near the tunnel. When the report of the disaster was received, Chief Healy sent rescue squad No. 4, under Capt. Wilfred Lindsay, to the scene. The squad truck left the city at 1:25 a.m. These firemen worked over Parrish about two hours without success.
Fred W. Warner, superintendent of equipment for the fire department, who was sent to the tunnel Tuesday morning, returned at noon to report to Chief Healy.
"Parry went with Williams and Kennedy about 600 to 700 feet into the tunnel to fight the fire," Warner said. "They had their gas masks on; Parry's wasn't working right, so he came out." That's all that saved his life! Apparently a short time after he left his companions, carbon monoxide gas formed, possibly from creosote on the burning ties and timbers.
A stiff wind had been blowing from the east into the tunnel mouth. It suddenly veered, creating the hazard most feared by firemen—a back draft.
The gas and back draft combined to make a death trap for Kennedy and Williams. Their masks were ineffective against monoxide, but even if they became conscious of the gas and tried to flee, they possibly were trapped by falling timber.
Parrish working at the pumper, became alarmed when the men had not returned in ten minutes, Warner stated. Seizing a gas mask, he entered the tunnel.
ROAD MASTER FINDS BODY.
A. L. Johnson, general superintendent of the D. & S.L., said G. E. Hamilton, the roadmaster, then took a mask and went in search of Parrish. He stumbled over Parrish's body about 100 feet inside. Hamilton was losing consciousness trying to drag out Parrish, when he was rescued by other railroad men.
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Plans for drastic staffing cuts at West Metro Fire Rescue coincided with a front-page story in The Denver Post on acute shortages of volunteer firefighters in Colorado's smaller communities and rural areas. Budget constraints are hurting staffing at career fire departments. Demographic and societal changes are taking a toll on volunteer recruiting and retention. The situation will be difficult to remedy. Fire doesn't take into account minimum staffing levels. It destroys.
On Dec. 21, 1929, Denver fireman Elmer Hargis of Engine 15 lay ill in St. Anthony's Hospital in need of a blood transfusion. District Chief P.J. Boyne asked for donors. This was a risky procedure at the time. Firemen Ben Miller, James Williams, Joe Bernstein, Thomas Seely, Dan Nash and Ray Warne were chosen as candidates. Seely was deemed best match. "From those who volunteered I chose every type of man," Boyne said. "I chose a large one, a small one, a fat one, a thin one. There is no religion, no race in an emergency likes this."
Photo: Greeley-Weld County Airport
GREELEY-WELD COUNTY AIRPORT
The Greeley-Weld County Airport provides Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) service exceeding requirements for general aviation airports. Select airport employees are cross-trained as firefighters and certified by the FAA. Union Colony Fire Rescue Authority provides mutual aid. The ARFF station is located next to the terminal.
- 1,000 Gal. Water
- 130 Gal. AFFF (Capable of producing 4,000 gal. of foam)
- 500 lbs. Dry Chemical
- Overhead Long Distance Water & Foam Turret
- 1 1/2" Side Hose Reel
- 1" Dual Agent Bumper Hose Reel
- 100 Gal. Light Water (Pre-mixed water & foam)
- 500 lbs. Dry Chemical
- Overhead Dual Agent Turret
- 1" Dual Agent Rear Hose Reel
- Extrication Tools
- Trauma Kit
- Automatic External Defibrillator (AED)
WAKE UP! WE HAVE A RUN
Denver firemen in long underwear answer the alarm. Scene possibly old Fire Station No. 5 downtown.
Photo: Denver Fire Dept.
DENVER: 1986 Emergency One quint ran as part of a two-piece "TAC" company with a 1986 Ford F-800/E-One "Midi" pumper. Truck 11 featured a 1500-GPM pump, 200-gallon tank and 110-foot aerial ladder. A TAC company was staffed by four firefighters aboard the truck and two riding the pumper. Truck later moved to Station No. 8.
John Arthur photo via Youngstown Fire website
CASANOVA NIGHT CLUB
Nov. 11, 1965
United Airlines #227 from Denver crashed short of the runway at Salt Lake City and burst into flames. Forty-eight people escaped; 43 died. "Firemen broke into a compartment nearly half hour after the crash and rescued four survivors," United Press International reported.
Flames showing at Balcom Industries Inc. liquid insecticide plant in the days before Hazmat response.
Photo: Greeley Fire Dept.
1895 HOTEL FIRE TRAGEDY
Fire captain and three of his men lost
'Blind fire' at St. James Hotel in Denver
On March, 23, 1895, four members of the Denver Fire Department’s Hose Co. 3 died when a fire at the St. James Hotel caused the lobby floor to collapse.
They were: Capt. Harold Hartwell, Frederick Brawley, Richard Dandridge and Stephen Martin.
With the exception of their captain, Hose 3's firemen were African-American.
At the time, the Denver Fire Department, like many other U.S. fire departments, was segregated.
The Weekly Pioneer Press of Akron, Colorado, described the blaze as:
“A blind fire -- that is a fire where the flames are not discernible and where the flames themselves are of little account, but where the smoke is most dangerous."
“The actual fire did not reach above the basement” however, “it burned away the supports of the floor."
Firemen “stayed the flames, but not so with the smoke" as "it penetrated the whole building."
“It could be seen belching from the doors on the ground floor and the windows up to the fourth story."
“The fumes caused by the cellar damp and the burning of the wood made it
appear as if the whole building was ready to belch fourth in flames, while as a
matter of fact the fire was confined to the walls and partitions in the
basement of the building."
“The firemen who lost their lives groped their way through the smoke into the main entrance of the hotel, where the floor had been weakened by the fire."
“The result was that they went down into the smoky vortex below with no chance to save themselves or to be saved.”
Deaf and Blind School
Photo: School website
On March 22, 1950, an electrical short triggered a fire at the Colorado School for Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs. Students rescued a painting of General William Jackson Palmer, the school's benefactor. Firefighters contended with low hydrant pressure. The evacuation was orderly.
On Aug. 29, 1953, flames devoured the Central Block in Pueblo, Colorado.
O.G. Pope, 88, an attorney who had an office and apartment in the building, was the sole fatality.
As the building crumbled, "We started running fast. Don't know where, just fast," said C.C. Wood, a Pueblo fire captain.
According to the Pueblo Fire Museum, flames broke out at the Standard Paint and Glass Co. and spread to other businesses.
Photo: Pueblo Fire Museum
The fire was going through the roof and the building was entirely involved when the department arrived at 6:08 p.m. in response to a box alarm.
By the time he realized that he could not extinguish the fire the entire building was in flames.
He then called the fire department.
Three firefighters died battling a blaze at the Ormesher Store and Moose Lodge in Missoula, Montana, on Dec. 30, 1951. The fire had been burning for several hours. It flared up at about dusk and a wall collapsed, burying the men - Bernard J. Albright, Walter E. Cain, and Edward Sayler.
WYOMING: Roof Ablaze
On Aug. 5, 1980, an electrical fault in a transformer atop the Wort Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming, ignited a bird nest and the flames spread.
The fire burned into the night and the roof collapsed.
Just days later, a sign went up saying: "We will be back."
The hotel reopened in June 1981.
Photos: Wyoming Tales and Trails (top), Jackson News & Guide (left).
ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo., Dec. 15 (AP) - Firemen rushed into J. H. Cox's blazing shooting gallery, only to rush right out again. Eleven ducks and seventeen turkeys intended as prizes to marksmen protested loudly as they roasted, but the firemen were busy dodging 4,000 rounds of exploding rifle ammunition.
[Dallas Morning News - December 1930]
DENVER BLIZZARD - 1913
Photo: Private Collection
Legend has it that when the Great Blizzard of 1913 stopped Denver firemen from reaching a blaze, the occupants extinguished the flames using snow. Blizzard scene of Truck Company and street car.
The resignation of Percy Hoyt as chief of the Cheyenne, Wyo., Auxiliary Volunteer Fire department, an organization of fire-fighting veterans called upon to aid the paid city department in time of emergency has been delivered to Mayor Taylor and the auxiliary department is to be disbanded.
Whether it will be replaced by a similar new organization of volunteers has not been decided.
Chief Hoyt, a wealthy clubman whose hobby is fire fighting, has been chief of the auxiliary since its organization 13 years ago, when the old volunteer department was disbanded.
He was in the habit of wearing a cowboy’s sombrero with a rattlesnake skin around it.
The local papers in writing up the conventions frequently referred to him as “the millionaire Chief.”
Whether a millionaire or not, it was
admitted that he had done much for the fire service
of his state.
More than once he paid for apparatus out of his own pocket and was liberal in expenditures for the fire department over which he presided.
CALLING ALL THE DOGS
Photo: City of Salida
Mother and puppies with firemen in Salida, Colorado.
Kansas City, Kansas: On Aug. 18, 1959, five firemen and a civilian fire buff were killed in the explosion of gasoline storage tanks on Southwest Boulevard near the Kansas-Missouri line. The dead firemen were from Kansas City, Missouri.
DENVER FLOOD OF 1933
View of flooding from 11th Street Bridge
On Aug. 3, 1933, the Castlewood Dam crumbled, sending a deluge roaring into Denver.
The Associated Press reported:
"Pounding down on Franktown, tiny village on a hillside four miles below the dam, the surging tide swept on six miles to Parker, at times on a mile-wide front, and picked up tons of debris as it swirled into suburban Denver and sent Cherry Creek on a rampage through the heart of the city."
Denver police and firemen - their sirens "going full blast" - sped through streets warning people to evacuate.
Seven people died in Denver, according to the National Weather Service.
WESTERN SLOPE BLAZE
Photo: Museum of Western Colorado via Beacon
On Oct. 2, 1956, a fire and explosion destroyed C&B Tire and Recap at Third Street and Rood Avenue in Grand Junction.
CLOCK TOWER INFERNO
Photo: Daily Camera photo
On Feb. 9, 1932, high winds fanned a fire at the Boulder County Courthouse. Firefighters from Boulder, Longmont and Denver could do little "but watch the watch the building burn," according to the archives of the Daily Camera . The clock tower collapsed. The roof caved. The county's records, nonetheless, survived.
BLACKWATER - 1937
On Aug. 21, 1937, fire killed 15 firefighters and injured 38 others in Shoshone National Forest, near Cody, Wyoming - a tragedy known as the "Blackwater Fire." Lightning ignited brush near Blackwater Creek and the fire burned for two days before being detected. When fire crews reached the scene, flames covered 200 acres.
Photo: National Park Service
By SAM VAN ARSDALE
Cody, Wyo., Aug. 23 (AP) - When that fierce wind came up, I did the most natural thing.
I tried to get away from that terrible heat.
I threw my hands over my face and ran away from the first big wave of heat.
But, then, as I was running against the rim rock, a cross wind hit us.
The flames scorched right over my hands. They were badly burned.
I threw my hands away from my face and I screamed. And I knew my face was burned.
It was my first experience in a fire.
When I felt my face was burned, I turned around and ran down the hill toward the fire coming up from below.
I realized as I ran I was going into a fire. I began to think how horrible it would be to die that way.
So I turned around just quick enough to get away from the flames and ran back up the hill again.
Running up the heat hit me again. You just couldn't get away from it. The wind was twisting all around.
I guess I screamed and fell down. I remember I started to roll down the hill. Then it was all over.
I remember there were other fellows running with me down the hill the first time. But they didn't turn around. I guess they tried to run on through.
But I saw some of them just lay down in there and let the fire burn over them.
When I woke up lying on the ground, I was holding my face and the first thing I thought of I was going to die. I know I prayed and I think every other fellow did, too.
I though of mother and dad, and my girl friend, and my career. I wondered if I ever could use my hands again. You see, I'm going to study surgery.
Many of the fellows around me were screaming. There was still a lot of smoke and it made me panicky. I wanted to scream, too, but I realized there were fellows burned much more badly than I was, so I tried not to.
Somebody came in then and found us. A started walking out through the coals. I could feel my feet getting hot.
But we got out all right.
It was the most horrible experience I ever went through.
On May 9, 1950, a black bear cub was rescued after a forest fire in New Mexico and named "Smokey." The cub moved onto the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. - and the rest is history.
BLACK FOREST - 2013
On June 11, 2013, wildfires broke out across Colorado, including the Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, which burned into the following week. The Black Forest blaze destroyed nearly 500 homes and claimed two lives - one of the largest disasters in state history.
View of downtown Cripple Creek ablaze
FIRE STARTED IN A BROTHEL:
From Legends of America
On April 25, 1896, a lovers' quarrel triggered a conflagration in the Wild West, boom-town of Cripple Creek, Colorado.
Firefighters resorted to using dynamite to topple buildings to check the flames.
In the end, much of the city was gone and thousands were without shelter.
Here is the story:
Started in one of the many brothels, a dance hall girl named Jennie Larue, got into an argument with her lover and while quarreling, accidentally upset a gasoline stove.
The wooden frame buildings of the camp quickly ignited and spread from one building to the next.
Buildings in the fire’s path were blown up in an effort to stop the approaching flames.
The fire departments of Victor, Florence, Colorado Springs and Denver dashed to the city’s aid but there was little that could be done.
Four days later, half of the city lay in smoldering ruins, when a second fire alarm went off.
This fire began in the Portland Hotel on Myers Avenue and was believed to have been deliberately set because other fires were discovered simultaneously in other parts of the city.
In this second fire, eight blocks of buildings were consumed, six lives were lost and nearly four thousand residents were left homeless.
When it was all said and done, less than ten buildings were left to mark the site of the city.
The firebugs who were suspected of setting the second fire were lynched.
FORT COLLINS FIRE
Photo: City of Fort Collins
Street scene from 1960's
Snorkel and hand lines in action at fire at Hutchinson's - a furniture and appliance store - on Linden Street in Fort Collins. Ambulance is on stand by to left of fire apparatus. Hydrant located in front of store.
EXPLOSION IN RIDGWAY
'Hugged The Ground'
On Jan. 6, 1957, an explosion tore into a crowd of 150 spectators at a fire in Ridgway in southwestern Colorado, killing three people and injuring 15 others.
Children were among those pushing for a closer view when blast hit.
The fire - at a county garage - had been burning for 25 minutes.
Officials attributed the explosion to gasoline storage tanks or a stove, according to Associated Press dispatches in the Milwaukee Sentinel and the St. Joseph Gazette.
A woman likened the debris to shrapnel on a battlefield.
Harold Leicester, an employee of the Western Colorado Power Co., died after scaling the wall of the burning building to secure an electrical meter.
George Copeland and Virgil Gould, residents of Ridgway, also died in the explosion.
Dean Hainey, the town's postmaster, sustained serious injuries.
"It was terrible - I thought all of us were going to be killed," said Dale Whittington, a cafe owner. "We hugged the ground for at least three minutes.
"Then I helped pick up the bodies."
LOWRY AIR FORCE BASE FIRE DEPT.
Lowry Air Force Base was a fixture in Aurora and Denver from 1938 to 1994.
Its primary mission was training, including preparation of bomber crews during World War II.
The site is now a commercial and residential development.
Lowry's old fire station - Building 357 - was converted into the home of the Colorado Free University.
At left are photos of post-war crash rigs at Lowry from the "Fire Trucks at War" website.
Photo: Denver Public Library
Denver firefighters survey aftermath of explosion at Paris Art Theater at 76 Knox Court on May 27, 1963.
FIRE AND WATER
NEW YORK TIMES:
DENVER, Sunday, April 19, VIA JULESBURG, Tuesday, April 21.
At 2 o'clock this morning a fire broke out in the; Cherokee House, in the center of the business part of the town, and had acquired such headway before it was discovered that it was impossible to check it. The flames spread to the surrounding buildings and in less than an hour the greater part of four blocks was in ruins. By blowing up and tearing down buildings the fire was checked at about 5 o'clock, and at the present writing, is about subdued. The loss will reach nearly $1,500,000. The loss in flour and other provisions was very heavy.
NEW YORK TIMES:
DENVER CITY, Sunday, May 22.
Cherry Creek, which has been dry within and several miles above this city since 1859, suddenly filled with water at midnight on the 19th inst., over flowing its banks, submerging West Denver, and doing immense damage to property.
Fifteen or twenty persons have been drowned, and about fifty dwellings swept away.
Large numbers of cattle and sheep are drowned.
Among the buildings destroyed are the Rocky Mountain News Office, the City Hall and several other brick buildings.
McPhee & McGinnity: On May 23, 1935, fire struck the prominent Denver lumber, paint and building supply company.
Photo: Private Collection
PUEBLO FLOOD - 1921
On June 4, 1921, the International News Service reported: "Flood and fire have wrought terrific havoc in Pueblo, Colorado."
A cloudburst the previous night unleashed the waters of the Arkansas River.
An estimated 1,500 people perished in the disaster and damage was estimated at $20 million.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reported:
"The fire department siren sounded 15-minute flood warnings and within a short time every available police officer and guardsman was sent into the West Peppersauce river bottoms of West Pueblo to warn the inhabitants.
"People were slow to leave and many refused according to soldiers."
Photo: Business Wire
Scene following Spanish Gate fire in Denver suburb of Glendale in December 2003. A resident trapped by flames died as she called for help. Another went to prison for starting the fire. Glendale firefighters received aid from Denver and other cities. Denver later assumed responsibility for Glendale's fire service. Merger talks began a year before
On July 11, 1961, United Air Lines Flight 859 skidded off a runway at Stapleton Airport, Denver. The giant DC-8 exploded in flames. Eighteen people perished, including small children.
Photo: Private Collection
DENVER 'BOMB TERROR' Link to 1931 newspaper article
With Denver skyline as backdrop, "slurry bomber" takes off from Rocky Mountain Regional Airport on Sept. 12, 2010 enroute to Reservoir Road Fire near Loveland.
Photo: Michael Rieger/FEMA
Photo: City of Fort Collins archives
On Sept. 26, 1973, an explosion trapped workers atop a grain elevator in Loveland and fire officials called for a helicopter to rescue them.
The blast ripped out a section of the Big Thompson Mill and Elevator from levels three to seven, according to the archives of the Loveland Fire Rescue Authority.
The alarm was transmitted at 1:56 p.m. and the first engine - call sign “City 1” – arrived at the "Big T" four minutes later reporting “multiple injuries.”
All available fire equipment was ordered to the scene. Aid arrived from Berthoud and Fort Collins.
At 5:30 p.m., the helicopter arrived to reach the perched workers, aided by the Mountain Rescue Group of the Larimer County Sheriff’s Department.
Fire investigators determined the explosion was triggered by a fault in a welding cable.
GLOBEVILLE RAILWAY WRECK
Electric Railway Journal
Sept. 18, 1920
Ten persons were killed and 100 others were injured, several of them fatally, when two interurban electric cars of the Denver & Interurban Railroad met in a head-on collision on Sept. 6.
The accident occurred near Globeville, Col., a Denver suburb.
Failure on the part of the motorman of one of the cars to obey dispatchers' orders is said to have been the cause of the accident.
D&I Railroad car
Among those killed was Judge R. S. Morrison, pioneer resident of Denver and a recognized authority on mining law.
[Editor's Note: A later account placed the death toll at 12; more than 200 injured.]
On March 4, 1983, fire gutted Denver's Masonic Lodge No. 5. The temple - known as "The Old Lady on Welton Street" - was built in 1889.
Photo: Lodge No. 5 website
On May 16, 1907, flames gutted Laramie, Wyoming's business district.
The fire department - alerted by both telephone and a corner fire alarm box - arrived in minutes.
The race was already lost.
Flames extended north from Thornburg to University, from Second Street to an alley, according to Wyoming Tales and Trails, a web site about state history.
Fire destroyed Kingford's and Eggleston's cigar stores; Peterson's tailor shop; Miller's and Carter's jewelry; Home Restaurant; the Boomerang newspaper; Crawford's second-hand store; Lockwood's taxidermy.
Heat fractured windows on the Miller Block, ignited awnings and melted part of the City Hall cornice.
The Laramie drug store and the Derby Saloon sustained smoke and water damage.
The newspaper managed to publish the next day .
ARSON: Cold Case
If you have information, contact Thornton Fire Dept. 303-538-7602
11 EAST 84TH ST., THORNTON, COLORADO
On Jan. 27, 1997, an arson fire killed five guests at the Hacienda Plaza Inn. Two firefighters were injured. The case is still open. The Denver Post reported the fire started in a storage room.
Photo: Denver Post blog
On Dec. 16, 1985, a propane explosion destroyed a Rocky Mountain Natural Gas Co. building in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Twelve people died; 23 were transported to hospitals.
Survivor Maynard Crandall, quoted by the Associated Press, said: "I'm one of the lucky ones. Some dear friends of mine, I know, didn't get out."
"We did our job and got the hell out of there."
That's how John DeJong, assistant Denver Fire chief, described the rescue of Linda Jane Hinchman, a student at Colorado Womens College on Dec. 13, 1962.
Hinchman, 17, of Glenwood, Indiana, wedged her toe in a faucet while bathing. Firemen sawed off the faucet and freed her toe with petroleum jelly.
The freshman was "well-bundled" by classmates by the time firemen arrived. She kept the bathtub faucet as a souvenir.
[United Press International dispatch in the Dec. 14, 1962 News-Press of St. Joseph, MO]
EVANS SCHOOL BUS DISASTER - 1961
In one of Colorado's deadliest road accidents, a train struck a bus from Greeley School District No. 6 at an unguarded grade crossing on Dec. 14, 1961. The wreck occurred two miles east and a mile south of Evans. Twenty youngsters, ages 6 to 13, died. Three families lost two children each. Sixteen others were injured.
The school bus drove into the path of the Union Pacific passenger streamliner "City Of Denver," which struck the rear of the bus at 80 mph. All available ambulances raced to the scene. The bus driver was charged with manslaugher and acquitted. Two years later, the school district opened East Memorial Elementary School in honor of the victims.
PARTIAL LIST OF FATALITIES
From Greeley Tribune
SHERYL MITCHELL, about 6, daughter of MR. AND MRS. JACK MITCHELL.
PAMELA HEIMBUCK, 9, daughter of MR. AND MRS. EDWARD HEIMBUCK.
KATHY HEIMBUCK, 13, daughter of MR. AND MRS. EDWARD HEIMBUCK.
LINDA ALLES, daughter of MR. AND MRS. REUBEN ALLES.
KATHY BRANTNER, 9, daughter of MR. AND MRS. JOSEPH BRANTNER.
CALVIN CRAVEN, 9, son of MR. AND MRS. RALPH CRAVEN.
ELLEN LOU CRAVEN, 8, daughter of MR. AND MRS. RALPH CRAVEN.
CINDY DORN, 11, daughter of MR. AND MRS. HERMAN DORN.
JIMMY VAUGHN FORD, 13, son of MR. AND MRS. JAMES FORD.
STEVEN LARSON, 7, son of MR. AND MRS. ARTHUR LARSON.
JANET PAXTON, 11, daughter of MR. AND MRS. JAMES R. PAXTON.
MARILYN PAXTON, 13, daughter of MR. AND MRS. JAMES R. PAXTON.
ROBERT SMOCK, 10, son of MR. AND MRS. RICHARD SMOCK.
LINDA WALSO, 13, daughter of MR. AND MRS. ALLEN WALSO.
ELAINE WHITE, 11, daughter of MR. AND MRS. DON O. WHITE.
MARY LOZANO, 11, daughter of MR. AND MRS. SIMON RANGEL.
GERALD BAXTER, 10, son of MR. AND MRS. VERN R. BAXTER.
MELODY FREEMAN, 8, daughter of MR. AND MRS. YOUNG FREEMAN.
MARK BRANTNER, 6, son of MR. AND MRS. JOSEPH BRANTNER.
'COLORADO BURNING' - 2012
President Obama tours fireground in Colorado Springs.
Photo: Pete Souza, White House
On June 25, 2012, it was a close call for firefighters as flames devoured a pumper at Last Chance, Colorado. That blaze flashed across 45,000 acres of prairie east of Denver - one of largest in state's history. Firefighters saved homes and a church.
Photo: Otis Telegraph
The North Fork Fire, first major blaze of the year, broke out in March 2012 and claimed three lives in foothills near Denver. Residents had little warning.
Photo: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
VIEW FROM ORBIT: The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this natural-color image on June 23, 2012. Red outlines approximate the locations of actively burning fires. The High Park and Weber Fires produced the largest plumes of smoke.
RIDE 'EM COWBOY!
Denver - Date Unknown
Firefighters try to gain control of hose line at what appears to be the scene of ruptured natural gas line.
Photo: Private Collection
FIRE AT BARNETT BUILDING
On Feb. 17, 1932, John Healy, who served as Denver fire chief for 33 years, had a brush with eternity at 16th and Larimer.
The Barnett Building was ablaze.
Six firefighters and a watchman suffered burns and smoke inhalation in harsh conditions.
Frozen hose spray glazed streets, trolley lines and fire crews while flames roared from above.
"Fire Chief Healy, veteran smoke eater and one of the best known firefighters in the country, narrowly escaped death," the Associated Press reported in that day's Evening Gazette of Berkeley, California.
Healey remained at the helm of the fire department until his death - of natural causes - in 1945.
Woman wraps arms around Denver firefighter.
Photo: Hewit Institute website
On Aug. 8, 1960, fire destroyed the derelict Canyon Hotel at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Photo: National Park Service
WYOMING STATE HOSPITAL
On Jan. 4, 1897, fire destroyed the Wyoming State Hospital in Rock Spring, Wyoming. All patients were safely evacuated. The institution was rebuilt and renamed the Wyoming General Hospital.
Fire destroyed the Union Pacific Railroad depot in Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 17, 1917
Photo: Wyoming Tales and Trails
GUMRY HOTEL DISASTER
Boiler Explosion, Fire Killed 22
One of the Mile High City's deadliest accidents
Denver Fire Journal
On Aug. 19, 1895, a boiler exploded at downtown Denver's Gumry Hotel while the boiler operator was drinking at a saloon.
"Naught but the walls were left intact," the Aspen Weekly Times reported.
A Utah newspaper called it "a gaunt and sinister ruin."
The explosion killed 22 people including Peter Gumry, proprietor.
Newspapers published graphic details of the disaster. The hotel was located on Lawrence Street between Seventeenth and Eighteenth streets.
"The firemen, with light and torch, entered all parts of the hotel," according to a daily quoted by an insurance journal. "Out of the pile of brick, wood and iron below came feeble moans and piteous cries."
James Murphy, trapped in the ruins, pleaded with firemen to amputate his leg. Moments later a wall collapsed and buried Murphy. He died.
M.E. Letson, a dairyman, who waited 10 hours for rescuers to reach him, told a newspaper correspondent of his ordeal:
"You cannot have the slightest idea of my feelings as I lay there in the bottom of the basement with all the ruins on top and around me, hearing the excruciating cries of the dying and those in agony and being almost overcome by the shock, and also soaked with water and almost drowned and fearing that the next minute I would be buried alive."
Three Denver firemen - P. Gilchrist, J.E. Troy and Louis Maguire - were injured when a wall collapsed and "were almost suffocated to death by smoke and dust," according to a dispatch published in a New Jersey newspaper. [Daily True American of Trenton] The firemen were treated at the county hospital "where it was found they were not seriously injured."
Boiler operator Helmuth Loescher fled Denver and was returned to face investigators.
A coroner's jury determined it was impossible to assign blame, according to October 1895 edition of The Locomotive, a publication of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. [Google Books archive]
'Cries of a babe and the moans of men and women could be heard, but the flames and smoke increased, and finally the voices were all silenced'
From daily newspaper account
Author Howard Potter Dunham, writing in a 1912 textbook [Google Books archive] entitled "The Business of Insurance," said the boiler contained adequate water.
However, the jury assailed Gumry and his business partner for allowing Loescher to work long hours; censured Loescher for negligence; and criticized the city boiler inspector for lax procedures and standards.
Excerpt of verdict [Chronicling America]:
"From the testimony submitted, which was conflicting, we are unable to fix the responsibility for the disaster upon any one person, but we believe the owners and managers, Peter Gumry and Robert C. Greiner, were blamable for requiring of the engineer sixteen hours' work out of twenty-four - a request far beyond the ability of any man to endure and perform good work; also for employing an engineer whose habits were dissipated and unreliable, and whose experience did not justify them in placing him in such a responsible position, all of which were well known to them.
"We find that the engineer, Helmuth Loescher, had been drinking on the night of the disaster, and further, he had not examined the safety valve to the boiler for two months, proving him unfit to occupy any position where security to life and property depends upon the faithful performance of duty."
Jury members: K. G. Cooper, F. B. Croke, F. E. Edbrooke, Charles W. Babcock, Frank M. Demange and R. W. Speer.
"Walls have been torn down, but three upper floors and an immense square skylight in the roof hangs suspended in midair directly over where the bodies are supposed to be … Firemen, laborers and their superintendents have worked incessantly, but little appears to have been accomplished … Chief of Police Goulding is in receipt of hundreds of letters and telegrams from all over the country making inquiry of the missing" - San Francisco Call [8/21]
"Every engine in the city was called to the scene … The firemen worked with great heroism. The heat was intense, and the smoke blinding. Electric light wires dangling in the alley, and walls tottering to a fall, increased the perils of the situation." - Oswego Daily Times [8/19]
LIST OF DEAD AT GUMRY HOTEL
ROBERT C. GREINER; MRS. ROBERT C. GREINER; LIZZIE LAGER; LOUISE REINHUBER; EMMA MUHLERTHALER; PETER GUMRY; GENERAL CHARLES ADAMS; WILL RICHARDS; JAMES M. MURPHY; MYRON E. HAWLEY; E. W. EDWARDS, all of Denver; FRED HUBBOLD, Lisbon, Iowa; A. M. MUNROE, Colorado Springs; W. J. CORSON, Pueblo; E. F. McCLOSKEY, Cripple Creek; MRS. G. R. WOLFE; RUBY WOLFE, Lincoln, Neb.; BELA L. LORAH, Central City; FERDINAND FRENCH, Central City; GEORGE BURT, Colorado Springs; A. D. DODDS, Albany, N. Y.; ALBERT S. BLAKE, Pueblo.
On June 17, 1921, lightning set ablaze the Midwest Refining Co. tank farm in Casper, Wyoming. Flames raged for 48 hours and consumed 360,000 barrels of oil even after the application chemicals, according to the Associated Press.
'I saw a flash...'
TUNNEL of FLAMES
Tragedy at Elitch's
Fire Engulfed Ride
On July 16, 1944, fire roared through a "tunnel of love" boat ride at Denver's famed Elitch Gardens amusement park. A locked gate delayed fire engines from reaching the blaze.
Smoke blackened the "Old Mill" boat ride, which featured colorful vessels and oil-painted canvas scenes.
Six people died. Four of the dead were soldiers and their wives. Two worked at the park and rushed into the flames to save the others.
"Flames were still at their height when firemen crashed through the walls of the Old Mill with axes," the Associated Press reported.
William Kilbourne, a soldier from Louisville, Kentucky, was credited with saving lives by pushing boats out of the tunnel.
"I heard a scream and looked back over my shoulder," Kilbourne said. "I saw a flash of flame in other boat or beside it."
The tragedy led to reforms in the municipal fire code.
"For nearly an hour firemen feared the entire million dollar park would be burned down"
- International News Service
- Pvt. Robert McIivain; wife Mary, Emporia, Kansas
- Pvt. R.L. Jacobberger; wife Maxine, Hollywood, California
- Attendant George Keithline, 16
- Attendant Edward Lowery, 30
[Report based on United Press story in New York Times, Associated Press story in Milwaukee Journal and International News Service story in St. Petersburg Times]
On Jan. 17, 1950, a wildfire flashed across Camp Carson near Colorado Springs, claiming the lives of eight soldiers and a teenage volunteer fighting the blaze. Winds of 60 mph fueled flames that started near the Broadmoor Hotel.
FIREMEN CHASE HORSE, WAGON, FIRE
Holiday Pursuit in Downtown Denver
By The United Press
DENVER - "Julius Caesar," a milk wagon horse with a sense of humor, and the Denver Fire Department gave Christmas shoppers a treat when they played "tag" in the main business section Saturday.
Julius, as a rule, goes about his business like any ordinary horse, but when an oil stove in the wagon exploded while the driver was delivering a bottle of milk, he broke away.
As Julius kicked up the snow in a burst of speed down a busy avenue, scattering bottles of milk, six fire trucks took up the pursuit.
The firemen "tagged" Julius after a chase of five blocks and extinguished the blaze.
[Pittsburgh Press - Dec. 22, 1929 - Page 2]
GREAT FIRE OF VICTOR
Dynamite Failed to Arrest Conflagration
On Aug. 21, 1899, fire destroyed 14 blocks of Victor, Colorado, leaving the gold mining town's business district in ashes.
Firefighters failed to contain the flames even after turning to dynamite to topple buildings, most of which were made of pine timber.
A train rushed firefighters from other cities, according to a dispatch in the Boston Evening Transcript.
A year earlier, fire destroyed the city jail, which was also made of timber, killing several inmates.
WYOMING WILDLAND FIREFIGHTERS
Fort Washakie, Wyoming, June 12, 2000 - FEMA Helitack command post coordinating aerial firefighting and reconnaissance.
Photo: Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo
TOT, 2, RESCUED FROM WELL
'He knew he was OK'
On April 16, 1955, Aurora fire crews rescued little David Mark Counterman, 2, from the bottom of an 18-foot water well shaft.
Firemen lowered into a rescue shaft bored by city workers and telephone company drillers cut through dirt and rock to reach the boy who tumbled into the abyss.
Oxygen pumped into the well sustained David during the four-hour drama.
"He screamed all the time he was in the hole," said George Moorehead, fire chief of Aurora. "But the minute we laid hands on him, he gave us a feeble smile and stopped.
"He knew he was OK," Moorehead said in an Associated Press story printed in the Sunday News-Press of St. Joseph, Missouri.
DENVER FIRE JOURNAL
Founded Oct. 2011
Written and edited by Vinny Del Giudice, a wire service reporter who spent 30 years covering Washington, D.C., started his career in journalism chasing fire engines in Springfield, Ohio, and served as a volunteer fireman and EMT in Arlington County, Virginia, from 1985-1992. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel.: or 571-212-4120 (This is a hobby. Suggestions welcomed.)
Denver in Flames
In Denver in Flames, Denver Post columnist Dick Kreck recounts the triumphs and tragedies of the Mile High City's firefighters. More than a history of the city's great fires, Denver in Flames paints a moving portrait of heroism and tragedy. Published by Fulcrum Publishing, 2000.
5280 FIRE: Best Fire Buff Site in West
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