Insurance adjusters set up impromptu offices
to deal with claims after the Spokane Fire.
From the Great Fire of Rome and accounts given
by some of the greatest historians of the Classical
Age, we now turn to the Great Spokane Fire of 1889
and a report given by some of the youngest students
in the Spokane area. The report is from the web site
of the Discovery School in Spokane, which teaches
grades K-6, and is presented pretty much verbatim.
From 5th and 6th graders? Just amazing.
Great job, kids.
"The Great Fire of 1889."
- Some think [the Great Spokane Fire] may have started when Bill Wolfe was
cooking pork chops in his lunch counter on Railroad Avenue. They think a
burst of flame caught a greasy towel that was hanging up by the stove.
It quickly spread up the stairs.
- Some say the real cause was Irish Kate, a saloon girl on Railroad Avenue.
While she was working, a drunken man came in and they got into a fight.
Later she found that her hair needed fixing. She went up to her room and
stuck a curling iron in a kerosene lamp. She did this at 6 p.m. on August 4,
1889. The man came up to her room and they had another fight. Kate fell
into the table that held the kerosene lamp. The lamp fell over and started
- Some people think it started from a spark from a passing train.
Then people called for the volunteer fire department. It took them a few
minutes to get there. When they hooked up their hoses to fight the fire,
there was no water pressure. Where was the water? The scene became very
chaotic, everyone running and shrieking to get away from the fire. By
seven o’clock, the volunteer fire department still wondered why there
was no water pressure.
But the fire was going too fast. As it burned, a huge wind came up and
pushed the fire all the way to the river. The people were very worried
because there were two lumber mills near the river – perfect fuel for
the fire. By now it was nine o’clock, a lot had happened — 27 blocks
had burned down. The fire was almost to the river. As the fire reached
the river, the winds calmed down. Then the fire calmed down. The people
were thinking: “this is a miracle.” The fire finally was out. The exhausted
people weren’t sad, but they were a little discouraged. So the city was
doomed. The Mayor thought there was something he could do. So he used
dynamite to blow up buildings along Lincoln Street to slow the fire down,
and create a firebreak. That didn’t even put a dent in the raging fire.
Some people were moving [their] stuff into the streets just to see them
burn up in the flames. Others, on the other hand, climbed up to the tops
of buildings and were ready with buckets of water and mops. They thought
they would be able to save their belongings by wetting them down.
To replace the buildings that were burned down or damaged, the people
put up tents to do business. When it was time to re-build the city, they
decided to use brick so it would not burn down as easily.
After one week everybody was busy; everyone had a job. Indians were going
through the city looking for relics, and the military were guarding the
corners. If you were going into the city you had to have a pass. By Monday
afternoon the bankers rushed to the see if the important documents were OK.
They found that important legal papers of Spokane had survived even though
the safes were so hot that they had to be cooled down. The banks temporarily
started doing business at the Crescent Block, a new building untouched by
All telegraphs sent to Seattle, or the west, were sent from the western
station, and telegraphs going east were sent from the Stevens St. station.
When the Telegraph Company was done setting up the two stations, 1,600
telegraphs were sent all over Washington, just on Monday, August 5, 1889.
The Centennial flourmill had just started operation on August, 3, the day
before the fire. Since food was in short supply after the fire, the relief
committee called to ask for some flour. The mill owners were able to donate
the first 100 barrels ground by the mill. This proved to be a wonderful
advertisement for the owner and it brought great profits after that. The
city conducted an investigation into the cause of the poor water pressure
in hose 2, which allowed the fire to spread quickly and uncontrollably.
The investigation centered on Superintendent Rolla A. Jones.
The question was whether he neglected his duties by being absent on the
day of the fire. The city council’s appointed committee found that a 20
year experienced mechanic was in charge of the pumping station and all
pumps were working properly.
The reason there was such poor water pressure was that No. 2 hose sprung
several leaks minutes after the fire began. The Committee found that there
was not enough evidence to charge Mr. Jones.
At the end of the fire, people said “We will build Spokane bigger and
better.” And they did.
Just one suggestion, kids: Source your work! 🙂