Seattle, WA The Great Seattle Fire, Jun 1889
The Great Seattle Fire destroyed the entire central business district of Seattle, Washington, on June 6, 1889.
On the afternoon of June 6, 1889, John E. Back, a worker in Victor Clairmont's cabinet-making shop near Front Street and Madison Avenue, was heating glue over a gasoline fire. Sometime around 2:30 pm, the glue boiled over and caught fire. The fire soon spread to the wood chips and turpentine covering the floor. Back attempted to douse the fire with water which only served to spread the fire further. The fire department arrived by 2:45, but by that time the area was so smoky that the source of the fire could not be determined. At first it was assumed to have begun in the paint shop above Clairmont's woodworking shop and the Seattle newspaper erroneously ran this story the next day.
As the fire reached Third Avenue, Trinity Church burned quickly, and the fire moved across the street toward the three-story Courthouse. Before long, the fire had reached Fourth and University, but a handful of buildings were saved, including the Courthouse. The Fire Department had tried to water down the Courthouse to prevent it from burning, but water pressure was so low, the hoses could only spray the first floor. Quick-thinking Lawrence Booth climbed to the roof of the Courthouse and poured buckets of water down the sides of the building, saving the structure as well as all the public records and the jail within. Booth's lead inspired bucket brigades to save the Boston Block and Jacob Levy's house. Henry Yesler's house was also saved, by someone who thought to cover it with wet blankets.
Meanwhile, the fire was spreading even farther. Before it reached Yesler, Moran ordered that the shacks there be either torn down or exploded, in the attempt to create another fire block. Despite such efforts, the fire crossed the gap, and Skid Road went up in flames next. Mayor Moran declared an 8:00 pm curfew that night and ordered all saloons closed until further notice.
The fire burned until 3:00 am. When it was done, the damage was enormous. 120 acres (25 city blocks) had been destroyed, as was every wharf and Mill from Union to Jackson Streets. Although the loss of human life was evidently low (no statistics were kept on that) it was estimated that 1 million rats were killed. Thousands of people were displaced, and 5,000 men lost their jobs. The city estimated its losses at over $8 million, and that number did not even include person losses or those of water and electrical services. The total losses may have been as high as $20 million.
Read articles on the devastating fire that consumed Seattle in Jun 1889. (below)