Grand Forks, ND lumber company fire, Apr 1903



The Fire Was the Worst in the History of Grand Forks -- The Planing Mill and Main Lumber Yard Saved by Heroic Work of Fire Departments of the Two Cities, Assisted by Citizens -- Cause of the Fire Not Clear -- Mill Will Probably be Rebuilt -- Loss Aggregates About $90,000 With Over $50,000 Insurance Carried

The worst conflagration that ever visited East Grand Forks broke out yesterday morning at about 2:30 in the saw mill of the Grand Forks Lumber company, which was totally destroyed, together with 300 cords of wood and 500,000 of sawed lumber, a portion of which was in the drying shed, and the balance to the north of the mill, where many of the heavier timbers were run from the mill and there loaded upon cars to save the necessity of rehandling.

Ther are a number of stories regarding the time the fire started and as to where it originated, some of which are without doubt due to the excitement that prevailed that [sic] that time. The night watchman says that he first saw quite thick smoke issuing from near the base of the smoke stack. He aroused the fireman and gave the alarm, but before the hose connections could be made and a stream turned onto the blaze that developed, a terrific explosion shook the whole building and in less time than it takes to tell it the entire mill was ablaze and the men had scarcely time to escape from the building. So rapid was the progress of the flames that Mr. Rickerd, the secretary and treasurer of the Grand Forks Lumber Company, found the entire structure including the sorting sheds in flames when he arrived, and he was the first man called by the night watchman when the fire was discovered and was driven, after hastily dressing, to the scene of the fire as fast as a hack team could gallop.

Firemen Fought Well.

The East and West Side departments were called when the fire was first discovered and rallied to the scene at once. It was seen at a glance that no power on earth could sve the mill, and all efforts were directed to the protection of surrounding property. A perfect gale was blowing from the south, and sparks and great flaming cinders were carried toward the Great Northern depot, the Minneapolis & Northern elevator, the old Dwyer Bros. elevator, the planing mill and the entire lumber yards. It was seen that if the depot or the elevators caught there would be no hopes of saving the millions of feet of lumber piled in the yard, and a determined effort was made to save these buildings and was successful. Scores of times the roof of the depot caught fire but each time the men on the roof succeeded in putting the fire out. Men stood on the roof four hours and guarded the property.

Fire Engine Failed to Work.

A line of hose was lad from the river, and the water was turned on. Before ten buckets of water had been pumped, or a good stream started the cylinder head of the engine was blown out, and the firemen were up against a terrific conflagration without any water. Chief Butler telephoned over to Grand Forks for Great Northern engines for water and assistance was sent promptly, water from the tenders being all that was furnished during the entire fire, and was distributed to the threatened property by bucket brigades. The roof of the Minneapolis & Northern elevator took fire scores of times, but men carried water to the roof, up five long flights of stairs, and in this manner protected the building. Once a burning shingle lodged between the cornice boards the firemen could not reach the seat of the fire till a hole had been chopped through the side of the cupola, and the fire reached in this way. Joe Murray, Jack Woods and Andy Sullivan fought valiantly on the roof of this building when the heat was intense, and because the last named was the first man to volunteer to climb to the top he was given a check for $50 by W. H. Close, the local manager for the Minneapolis & Northern Co. There were hundreds of men assisting in every way possible and only to the earnest fight that was put up can the fact that the fire was checked be attributed.

Hundreds of Fires.

While scores were fighting to confine the fire south of the Great Northern tracks, as many more were fighting the hundreds of incipient blazes that started in the lumber piles and in and about the planing mill. From the number of fires that started it seems almost incredible that the yard and planing mill were saved, as the air was so full of burning shingles and small pieces of board that there was a veritable rain of fire. Had it not been for the fact that there were hundreds of men on the ground, so that the entire length of the yard could be patrolled, there would be nothing but blackened heaps of smouldering ruins to mark the site of the lumber yard and planing mill.

Monarch Elevator Burned.

About 3:30 or 4 o'clock R. H. Elwood, who runs the Monarch elevator, situated on the N. P. tracks, over half a mile from the fire, discovered a small blaze about 50 feet up the building. The N. P. fire hose was laid but was too short to give assistance. Chief Munsey of the Grand Forks fire department supplied additional hose but before the connections were made it was too late to save the elevator and attention was turned to save the dwelling of Jerry Enright, which was situated about 200 feet from the elevator, with the wind blowing the sparks directly toward. It was only by hard work that this fine residence was saved, it having caught several times. The elevator was a total loss, and with it burned about 500 bushels of wheat and as much flax, together with the coal bins. This loss will not exceed $8,000, and it is thought to have been fully insured by the company. Manager Elwood of the Monarch elevator says that the house will probably be rebuilt in time to handle the next crop.

Scores of Residences Threatened.

Never in the city, and probably seldom anywhere, has such a scene been presented as could be seen in the east portion of the city early in the morning. The light from the burning mill lit up the city till a pin could have been picked up from the ground any place. The sparks and ashes were literally raining down on the residences. Every resident in the city was aroused, and men, women and children were hurrying hither and thither with every conceivable vessel that could contain water to wet the sides of buildings. Pails, coffee pots and tin cans were carried by little children and every house top had from one to three and four people on the roof, knocking off the burning embers as they fell, and pouring water on the dry shingles. It is really remarkable taking everything into consideration that not a residence in the city was burned, tough scores of them were afire, some several different times.

The Loss Esitmate.

R. H. McCoy, the president of the company, was advised of the fire at St. Cloud, where a message was given him on the train, he being en route to St. Paul. C. W. Rickerd, the secretary and treasurer of the company, stated that the loss would be about $80,000, with an insurance of $50,000. It is possible that the boilers may not be totally destroyed and perhaps the engine may be saved but this is very doubtful. Mr. Rickerd stated that the mill would probably be rebuilt at once. Mr. McCoy will return from St. Paul this morning, and on his return it will be determined definitely as to what move shall be made. Mr. Rickerd says the mill could be rebuilt and ready for business in 90 days, so that sawing could be resumed by the middle of August. It is the earnest hope that the mill will be rebuilt, as it is the most valuable industry in the two cities, the pay rolls aggregating nearly $20,000 per month.

A Hardship to Employes.

While many of the 200 employes of the mill are residents of this city and Grand Forks, perhaps half of them are non-residents. Many of them have moved their families to the city this spring, some in fact had not got settled yet. Naturally many have nothing but what they earn from month to month, and as many do not work in the winter, it will be a great hardship on them to be thrown out of work just at the beginning of the season. However, if the mill is to be rebuilt, the majority of the employes will be given employment again in a few days.

The Grand Forks Daily Herald, Grand Forks, ND 28 Apr 1903