Waukesha, WI, Haertl's Block Fire, July 1882
Waukesha Freeman, Waukesha, WI 17 July 1882
At four o'clock P.M. Saturday a barrel of gasoline exploded in the cellar of Haertel's store in the AEtna block and started a fire that promised for a short time to be a devastating one. A dense smoke was occasioned and the cry of fire had the effect of calling together an immense crowd of people, many of whom assisted in removing goods from the stores and offices located in the block. The fire company was called out promptly and fought hard for half an hour, holding the flames in check somewhat, though they were gradually gaining ground, and would intimately have swept the AEtna Block, and much other valuable property, from existence, had not the Industrial School brigade appeared on the ground in the nick of time with its Ahrens steamer, which, in less than ten minutes from the time a steam was started, had the blaze under complete control.
Fortunately the AEtna Block is well calculated to resist the progress of a fire, as heavy walls divide Mr. Haertel's portion from those of Mr. Icke and Mr. Langer, and the space in which the fire was confirmed rendered it comparatively easy for the firemen. Had the building been a wooden one, nothing could have saved it from destruction, notwithstanding everything moving like clock-work in getting the steamer on the ground. It so happened that the engineer was near by when the explosion took place and just as soon as it was seen that a fire was to result, he jumpted into a buggy and drove to the School in all possible haste, and then found a team harnessed so all that was required was to hitch it to the engine and hurry along. The greatest loss of time was in laying the hose, but Superintendent Sleep and Capt. Baker, assisted by a force of boys from the School, accomplished the work much quicker than one would suppose it could be done in the midst of an excited crowd. Double hose lines were laid so that when work was begun two streams were rushing in upon the flames.
The lower floor was burned away in center and probably will need relaying throughout, and much injury resulted to the large stock of stoves, etc., so that the loss will reach in the neighborhood of $2,000, a larger amount than was stated in the account given in the special edition of The Freeman issued hurriedly as soon as it was found that the blaze was under control.
Some injury was sustained by E. K. Kimball & Co., Wardrobe Bros., Vernon Tichenor, John Icke, and A. C. Nickell, who deemed it best to move their goods to another part of town.
As stated above, the fire was produced by a gasoline explosion and the immediate cause of it so far as is known was by a kerosene lamp carried by a son of George Klock. The boy was on his way to the tank in which the material was kept, but says he was several feet away from it and that the lamp exploded first. This is evidently a mistake as but a short time before the gasoline was changed from one receptacle to another in the cellar and it is more than probable that there was sufficient gas in the room to produce the explosion.
Mr. Frank Haertel who was in the store nearly over the place where the explosion occurred was thrown up to the ceiling but came down and struck on his feet. Others in the building were shaken up. Everything considered the affair resulted much more fortunately than it might and if the circumstances are such that Haertel Bros. can obtain their insurance we shall be glad.