Fourteen of Nineteen Stores Wrecked as Delayed Alarm and Lack of Fire Stops Spur Fire

A Staff Report

THE costliest fire in point of property loss in the history of St. Paul. Minn., wiped out the heart of one of the city’s busiest residential shopping centers, at Highland Park, on April 1, 1951. Property damage was estimated at between $1,500,000 and $2,000,000.

Fed by huge stocks of merchandise, fire ravaged most of the vast L-shaped one-story business block at Ford Parkway and S. Cleveland avenue shortly after 3:00 A.M. Fourteen of the 19 stores and eating places in the block were destroyed and most of the other five heavily damaged. Left in ruins were Lee’s Village Inn; the Highland Cleaners and Highland Drug Co. store on the Cleveland avenue side; Jackson Graves, women’s apparel; the Highland Delicatessen; Commander Appliance Co.; Ben Franklin Variety Store; Ritter’s Hairdressing shop; the Cut Price Supermarket: Berde’s meats; Egekvist’s bakery; Essex Corp. real estate firm; Cinderella shoe repair shop and the Highland Bowling Center on the Ford Parkway side. Suffering heavy damage were the Village Bootery; Highland Hardware; Fanny Farmer Candy shop; Highland Park bank and Lee’s Kitchen coffee shop, at the east end. The Highland Service station, north of the drug stoye on the corner of Ford and Cleveland was only lightly damaged, being favored by the prevailing wind.

The first alarm was turned in at 3:07 A.M., although the employe’s electric clock in Lee’s Village inn stopped at 2:18 A.M. That the fire had great headway is indicated also by the fact that by the time the firemen arrived the front of the supermarket had blown out and the store was fully involved. A patrolman, one of the first to arrive, reported that chunks of flaming debris fell on his squad car while on Montreal avenue, four blocks from the blaze.

The brisk northwest wind whipped through the opening blown in the supermarket and swept the blaze up and down a common hallway which connected the rear entrances of the establishments. Apparently there were no effective fire stops nor were any of the properties sprinkled.

The cause of the devastating blaze was not determined. It apparently originated in the supermarket located in the center of the Highland Parkway side which also housed Berde’s Meats and a branch of Egekvist Bakeries. A passing couple discovered the fire and called the department.

Once it fully involved the passageway, the fire ate its way up into the false roof area, which covered the entire structure, and made rapid headway toward the south corner.

Three special alarms were sounded before 3:30 A.M., bringing out about half the city’s fire fighting forces and calling off-shift men to duty. It was two hours before these forces reported the fire controlled, but firemen worked on the ruins all the rest of Sunday.

A dramatic incident of the fire occurred soon after the first companies got to work. Joseph Drexl, 58, Fifth District Chief, was standing near the drug store with its owner, Harold B. Shapira, 46. The latter wanted to enter the store but Chief Drexl said he was afraid gas pressure would cause an explosion. As they watched, the store front brew out with great force, followed by flame. Chief Drexl was buried under smoldering debris; Shapira was hurled about 50 feet across a boulevard and under a car on the far side. His wife, nearby, was cut by flying wreckage.

Chief Drexl was dragged clear of the wreckage by Police Sgt. Burt Pond, given first aid and taken to Ancker hospital with lacerations. Shapira, strangely enough, was not hurt.

Two power company repairmen, who were turning off a gas main near the drug store when the blast came, also were injured by flying debris.

The St. Paul Fire Alarm Bureau logged the first alarm at 3:07 A.M., the second alarm, by radio, at 3:11 A.M., and the third alarm at 3:17 A.M. Responding to these calls were 12 engine, three ladder companies and four chiefs, including Chief William Mattocks, who took charge of fire control operations.

By 4:00 A.M., the fire had moved up the Cleveland leg of the stores to Lee’s restaurant and the latter quickly became involved. The flames fed on the large accumulation of merchandise, many of the merchants having just received shipments to load their basements.

Icy roads slowed response of some fire companies and handicapped fire fighting operations, but the cold, the early hour, and location of the market, limited the number of spectators.

The fire was the second severe blaze (Continued from page 347) in the Shopping Center in ten years. The previous blaze burned out the National Tea Co. store in the exact location where the supermarket stood. One fireman was killed in that fire, the property loss being set at $500,000.

A fireman and a policeman administer aid to Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Drexl, who was severely injured when a wall blew out during St. Paul’s fire.Ruins of shopping center at St. Paul following fire.

(Continued on page 393)

Supermarket Fire

National Fire Code Vol. IV

The National Fire Protection Association has announced the publication of the 1951 Edition of its National Fire Codes, Volume IV, containing the complete texts of 38 standards on Extinguishing and Alarm Equipment.

This book, presents in convenient form the latest texts of the standards passed upon by the technical committees of the Association. Included in the volume aye standards on automatic sprinklers and water supplies, fire extinguishers and fire hose, special extinguishing systems, municipal and rural public protection, fire alarm and supervisory systems, employee organization for fire safety and other miscellaneous texts. The volume is particularly valuable for fire officials, and others having fire safety responsibilities.

The 1951 edition of the book, just released by the Association, replaces the 1946 volume. Copies are available from its Publication Services Department, N. F. P. A., 60 Batterymarch St., Boston, Mass., at $4.00 per copy.

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