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REST, VA: April 4, 1909 - A young girl was burned to death and her parents were seriously burned trying to save her as flames destroyed their home. This historic structure, known as "Yellow House," was more than 200 years old and was the scene of many notable events during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In the summer of 1755, George Washington stayed in the home on his way to Braddock's relief at Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War.
LENOX, MA: April 11, 1909 - Six people were killed by a fire that almost wiped out the entire business section of the town. Four blocks of commercial buildings were destroyed, including the Clifford Building, a three-story structure where those killed were sleeping when the fire broke out. The fire began in a hardware dealer and was fueled by turpentine, paints, oils and dynamite stored in the basement. A small cadre of volunteer firemen battled in vain until help began to arrive from Pittsfield, Lee and Richmond. A shift in the wind saved the public library and the Curtis Hotel.
ROCHESTER, NY: April 13, 1909 - A fire began at 11 A.M. in a four-story building at 428 Main St. East known as the "old Seldon Building." Whipped by 60-mph winds, the fire jumped northward into a densely populated residential area. Within a few hours, 15 brick or stone buildings and 49 frame dwellings were on fire in an area that stretched a half-mile in length. One fire company was nearly killed as they worked to move a ladder that had caught fire. A bystander shouted a warning and the firemen ran for their lives as the entire exterior wall of the Palmer Building collapsed into the street. At 1 P.M., assistance was requested from Buffalo and Syracuse, but Rochester firemen began to gain the upper hand before help arrived. The fire was completely contained when a rainstorm moved in and helped firemen halt the spreading walls of fire. This was the latest in a long series of arson-related fires in the city.
NEW BRIGHTON, PA: April 13, 1909 - A fire started in the mineral department of the Sherwood Brothers Co. pottery company. At the height of the blaze, a team of firemen were battling the flames from the rear of the structure when a collapse occurred, burying three firemen under bricks and steel girders. Fireman George Hartmann of Hose Company 1 was killed and Benjamin Carr and Charles Felt were seriously injured. Over 1,000 people attended Hartmann's funeral.
ASHEVILLE, NC: April 14, 1909 - Seventy-five guests were aroused from their sleep and scrambled to safety as fire swept through the fashionable Kenilworth Inn, located just outside of town. Flames broke out in the north end of the structure just above the boiler room and were spread throughout the structure by a strong wind. Firemen from Asheville responded the three-mile distance and were confronted with an advanced fire condition with jumpers on the ground. Several firemen suffered painful burns while making a valiant attack on the flames. The inn was destroyed.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA: April 16, 1909 - Flames were discovered just after 3 A.M. by the night clerk working at the Saint George Hotel at Howard and Eighth streets. The clerk and several others ran through the hotel, attempting to wake the occupants of the 400 small rooms. The large, three-story frame building burned with a fury, trapping many in their beds. Firemen using life nets caught a number of jumpers forced from their windows by the heat and smoke and scores were also rescued over ladders. Flames spread to eight other smaller buildings. Two hours after the flames were brought under control, firemen dug five bodies from the smoldering ruins. Their grim work continued as they searched for up to 10 more people still missing and presumed dead.
PAUL HASHAGEN, a FirehouseÂ® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY 1865-2000: Millennium Book, a history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.