June 23, 2019

1889: Three Arsons in One Evening

On the evening of November 19, 1889, “Prescott scored a fire record, in which she takes no special pride,” the paper lamented, “the department being called out no less than three times within four hours.” Although the first two fires were extinguished quickly, the third, at the livery stable, went out of control.
It was 6 pm when the first fire broke out in the basement of the Palace. “Parties who visited the place say it had been saturated with coal oil, and the fire started well under the floor,” the paper reported. Fortunately, the smell of the oil smoke proceeded the flames and the fire was quickly extinguished before there was any significant loss.

No more than 45 minutes later and less than 100 feet away, a second fire was spotted in the barn at the rear of the D. Levy & Co,’s store. Fortunately, this was also discovered relatively early and damage was kept to under $150. Levy carried no fire insurance.

An overview of 6 airplane accidents that occurred around the Prescott, AZ Airport in 1952.

Just after 10 pm, the third and worst fire was discovered. It caused “the destruction of Sloans Plaza Livery Stable, and of the beautiful little opera house adjoining, both buildings being owned by the Hon. Levi Bashford." 

At that hour, the fire was only discovered after it had broken through the stable’s roof. Horrifically, around 18 horses were locked inside at the time and 9 burned to death. Two more were burned so badly that they were eventually shot “to put them out of their misery.”

Sloan was left with only seven horses, but was able to save “all his buggies, harnesses, saddles and bridals, but 3 or 4 tons of hay were lost,” the paper reported. For Sloan, the uninsured, $2000 loss was devastating—that was two years wages for a skilled tradesmen!

However Sloan’s landlord, Bashford, lost the most financially, bearing the uninsured cost of $7000. Despite this, Bashford felt empathy for his tennant and generously allowed him free rent for a year to help him and his family get back on their feet.

“Ed Burke, who lived with his family on the ground floor of the Opera House, lost about $100,” the paper said. One man who lost everything he owned in a fire 16 months previous had “a small stock of goods in the front part of the lower floor of the Opera House and sustained a small loss.” Another man had “120 barrels of apples stored in the same room, but saved them without loss.” 

Bashford decided not to rebuild the small Opera House. Three years previous, he focused on making Howey Hall the premier Opera House in town.

The following day revealed that a fourth fire failed to spread leaving “no doubt whatever” that arson was the cause.

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By all accounts, the firemen did an excellent job. There were two hose teams who regularly practiced, and took great pride in getting water onto the flames first: the Dudes and the OKs. However, it seemed that their ladder deployment techniques were a little less practiced and a little more vaudevillian.

The “foreman of the OK Hose Company was hit with a ladder, causing him to faint,” the paper detailed, while a member of “the Dudes was struck in the stomach with the end of a ladder and had to be assisted home.” Two more men suffered minor injuries, but all were fine after a few days.

Since it seemed obvious that the fires were set purposely, the talk of the town was directed toward what the motive might have been. “Several citizens are of the belief that the recent incendiary attempts to fire this town was for the purpose of releasing prisoners from the county jail (in the Old Courthouse,)” the paper declared. “There is no denying the fact that some of the prisoners have friends on the outside, from the fact that saws and other articles have been passed into the jail. Just before the alarm for the livery stable fire, two or three parties were seen on the outside of the jail acting in a suspicious manner.” However, if that was the case, the prison-break plan failed and the arsonist was never apprehended.


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