Boise Suffers Worst Fire in 26 Years
A pre-Christmas fire that destroyed the five-story brick and joist building of Montgomery Ward Company at 909 Idaho street, Boise, Idaho, causing heavy damage, was termed by the Boise Fire Department the most destructive fire to hit Boise’s business district in twentysix years.
The building, all floors and basement of which were heavily stocked with automobile accessories, hardware and household appliances and other holiday merchandise of all kinds, was located between First Security Building on the east and a two-story building on the west, occupied by the Electric Service Company, Konrad & Rose Shoe store and Straw’s Office Supply.
FIRE ENGINEERING is indebted to Fire Chief Steve Taylor, Fire Prevention Captain W. F. Roach and Henry Griffiths, Jr., of the Boise Fire Department for the information upon which this report is based.
At the rear of the Montgomery Ward building, across a narrow alley, is located the three-story Spnna Building, occupied by two department stores and numerous offices. This structure, with its many unprotected windows facing the rear of the Montgomery Ward building, constituted a serious exposure.
The cause of the fire remains undetermined but it apparently started in the basement or on the main floor of the building and spread vertically to each floor through the open freight elevator shaft. The fire had involved all floors and was extending through the roof when it was discovered by a passerby, who sounded a box alarm. This was received at 11:26 P.M. and it was followed a minute later by another box as well as numerous telephone alarms.
Upon the arrival of the first companies from the Central Fire Station, three and one half blocks away on the same street, flames were shooting from the alley windows of Montgomery Ward, and threatening the rear of the Sonna Building.
The first lines were stretched into the alley to protect the latter structure against the hot fire. The companies responding on the first alarm were Engine Co.’s 5 and 1 and aerial Ladder Co. 1, with Acting Assistant Chief Earl Rose in charge. While responding and still two blocks away, Assistant Chief Rose saw the seriousness of the blaze and radioed for two more pumpers and all off-shift men.
Fire Chief Steve Taylor arrived on the second alarm and took charge. The off-duty men, as they reported, manned a 1000 G.P.M. pumper held in reserve at the Central Station and soon had this operating on the fire.
Notwithstanding the fast response of first and second alarm units, and quick action in getting heavy streams on the blaze, the fire had gained too great headway to control it within the building. Shortly, the roof and floors began to collapse and the building became an inferno that could be seen for miles around; buildings for many blocks in the area were showered with burning papers and ash.
An indication of the extent of the fire before the first alarm was sounded may be drawn from the fact that when the first arriving firemen forced the rear door, the first floor of the building had already burned through. This involvement made inside fire fighting impossible and all operations were conducted from the exterior, the effort being directed toward controlling further extension of the blaze. In this the firefighters were completely successful with the exception of a single cracked window and some scorched window frames in the Sonna Building.
After two hours operations with heavy streams, firemen began to get the upper hand. It was 2:00 P.M. however, before the last pumper shut down. Hydrant lines were left for overhauling and watch crews knocked out spot fires all the following day.
About 600,000 gallons of water were used on the fire and, even before the fire was completely extinguished, firemen set a pumper to work at the rear, pumping out the basement, to reduce the water damage in adjoining basements.
Fire forces at the fire were two 1000 G.P.M. pumpers which supplied four 2 1/2-in. lines each; two 750 G.P.M. pumpers operating five 2 1/2-in. lines; an 85-ft. aerial ladder and a trailer-type power unit which provided flood lights. Two 2 1/2-in. lines supplied a monitor and two 2 1/2-in. lines fed the nozzle on the aerial ladder, which was used as a water tower. The fifty firemen who operated during the struggle were aided by several volunteers from country fire districts.
Left in reserve at the Central Fire Station were Engine 3, a 500 G.P.M. pumper, and Engine 5, a 600 G.P.M. pumper, which was returned to Central Station after laying out hose on the first alarm. Also at Central Station was a new 1000 G.P.M. pumper, just delivered, but not yet tested and officially in service. However, had it been needed it could have been pressed into use.
The Boise Fire Department was highly praised by press and citizens for preventing extension of this fire, which had conflagration possibilities. In it’s Boise surveys, the National Board of Fire Underwriters had warned that a fire, well underway in any of the large buildings in the district could readily spread across the narrow alley and possibly involve the entire block.
Investigating the causes of the fire and apparent rapidity with which it developed, fire fighters were inclined to believe the heavy, low hanging fog of the night was a contributing factor by preventing discovery.