Enable Fire Department to Confine Blaze to One Section of Structure; Loss $300,000

FROM a department store clerk who said she smelled smoke came the first warning of a fire which subsequently ripped through four stores, damaged four others and threatened the entire block of 12 retail establishments in the loop business district of Rockford, I11., March 12, causing a loss of $300,000.

It wasn’t until Assistant Chief Thomas Hafey and engine company No. 1 and truck company No. 1 arrived that the true status of the blaze was realized.

Truck Capt. Walter Welch and Chief Hafey almost simultaneously discovered the fire’s hot spot. Welch, out on the street, noticed blackened windows on one of the stores. Hafey, in the department store basement, saw the ceiling glowing red.

Hafey immediately called in additional equipment and reserves, but 10 hours later, when the blaze was tapped out, it had wreaked the following damage:

Stores gutted or heavily damaged: Ruth’s Donut shop; Super Value Millinery; Charles V. Weise’s furnishings, appliances and toy departments: and Buchanan’s Music store.

Damaged by smoke or water or both: State theater lobby; Alexander’s restaurant; Victory Penny arcade, and Kay’s juvenile store.

Threatened: the Luggage shop, main Weise store, Jackson Jewelers, Allen’s Crockery, and Comay’s jewelry store.

Heaviest damage occurred in a riverfront building which housed the millinery and doughnut shops on the first floor and the department store appliances and furnishings department on the second floor. Three sets of fire doors kept smoke and flame from breaking into the main part of the department store and kept the fire from sweeping the entire block.

The fire, of undetermined origin but traced to the center of the doughnut shop, apparently had been eating its way into timbers and joists for several hours before the clerk in the department store smelled the smoke.

The riverfront building was so heavily charged that it was two hours after the fire was reported at 7:55 a.m. before firemen could enter the structure even with the use of gas masks.

The fire spread up and down and east and west from the doughnut shop. The block of stores is located on the north side of West State street. Approach to the river front building from the river was almost impossible while another structure behind it blocked approach from the rear.

The building, more than 75 years old, was a Rockford landmark, housing in the past a postoffice, public library and newspaper.

Even after the buildings and stores were opened up, firemen met difficulty in fighting the fire because of the maze of walls, rooms and levels in the adjoining buildings. The only way firemen could stem the blaze in the second floor was to flood it with water.

To bolster regular fire department equipment, pumps from the city water department were rushed to the scene. Workmen stood by to draw water from Rock river should the flames spread further.

Progress of the fire was stopped in the music store after one pumper broke down when a bearing in its pump burned out. No one was injured in the blaze. Although tapped out at 6:15 p.m., a rekindle in the second floor above the doughnut shop recalled an engine company and a truck company at 7:34 p.m.

Steel lath and plaster, wood joists and timbers, concrete, wallboard and tin ornamental ceilings were some of the barriers in the way of firemen reaching the widespread blaze.

Chief Wayne E. Swanson and his assistants, Hafey and William N. Weir, directed the fight.

Alarm office reports showed the movement of equipment to the fire:

7:55 a.m., Chief Hafey, Engine 1, truck 1, still alarm.

8 a.m., Chief Weir, Engines 2, 3, and 6, general alarm.

8:23 a.m., Engine 4, special call.

8:30 a.m., off shift, Eng. 6, special call.

8:43 a.m., Truck 2, special call.

8:45 a.m., off shift of Engine 8, special call, Chief Swanson.

9:35 a.m., off shift. Truck 2, special call.

The loop fire broke out a year to the day of the anniversary of the Haddorff Piano company fire in the city’s southeast industrial end which was the most disastrous fire in Rockford’s history.

Truck Captain Ben Goggiel Examines the Ruins of Ruth’s Donut Shop, Rockford, III., where the Disastrous Fire of March 12 Was Believed to Have Started.Rockford Firemen Battle Blaze which Threatened to Engulf an Entire Block. Hidden in the smoke at right is the two-story brick structure which housed two stores and a department store home furnishings deportment. In the center of the photo is the marquee of the State theatre over whose lobby the fire crept to cause exposure and water loss to other buildings.

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