September 27, 2020

Humboldt Suffers Two Conflagrations in Three Weeks

In July, 1910, William Oliver, manager of the Shumate confectionary, billiards, and cigar store in Humboldt was vacationing in Prescott. He spoke to the newspaper “in glowing terms” of his new hometown, describing it “as a coming commercial and mining center.” Little did he know that within a month Humboldt would suffer two “great fires”; the latter of which would start in the basement of the building in which Oliver’s business was housed!

On July 27, the first blaze ignited violently when a gasoline tank exploded at a Mexican restaurant, “and in a few minutes the building was a mass of flames which quickly extended to the adjoining structures,” the paper reported. The surrounding buildings, all “light-framed,” were reduced to a “mass of ruins” in less than an hour.

In addition to the Mexican restaurant, a Japanese restaurant and five saloons were the major structures destroyed. Another eight smaller buildings were also lost. The “fire nearly wiped out the entire lower section of the town,” the paper described. Total damage to the buildings was $20,000 (over $500K today,) “not including the personal property consumed.” None of it was insured.

“By continuous fighting, the saloon of Wingfield & Felder, situated across the narrow street, was saved, but it had a narrow escape,” the paper related. The other side of the fire was checked “at the big mercantile building of Mr. Wilkins.” Several months previous, he positioned several barrels of water on the roof for just such a dreadful occasion.

There was no mention of of anyone being injured or killed. “As the burnt district [was] located 500 yards from the smelter, it was never in danger, and the business section [was] even farther distant,” the paper pointed out. Despite the heavy loss, within a week: “Two new buildings [were] being hurriedly constructed. They [were] to be used as saloons, and [were] built on the site of the burned ones.”

However, the worst was yet to come. The business section that was “even farther distant” was the next to go up in flames. The Journal-Miner reported:

Humboldt—August 19:

This city suffered the most destructive conflagration in its history this evening, when a fire breaking out of the basement of the building occupied jointly by Shumate & Co. confectionary store and pool room, and the Francis-Miller store, destroyed property of an estimated value of between $50,000 and $75,000” (close to $2 million today.)

A mere three minutes after the fire was first discovered, the billiards table fell through the floor, crashing into the engulfed basement. “So quickly did the flames envelope the Shumate store that even the money was not saved,” the paper stated. In the Francis-Miller store, only the accounting books were rescued. Within 15 minutes, both businesses were in complete ruin.

Just west and across the alley from Francis-Miller’s, stood the Rickett’s rooming house. Despite the wind pushing the fire in the opposite direction, the heat alone was intense enough to ignite the rooming house, despite an alley separating the two! “It was a total loss,” the paper reported, “and with it went the Chinese laundry, situated in the rear.” 

Downwind to the east, the buildings began to topple like dominos. First to go was a butcher shop along with his residence in the rear. Then the barbershop was next to succumb. In all, seven businesses “were completely wiped out,” along with “several shacks and tent houses in the rear of the main business buildings [which] were also destroyed,” the paper revealed. “It was only by the utmost exertions of the citizens that the flames were checked and prevented from burning Dr. LC Toney’s hospital. “The flames were extinguished by means of wet blankets and water, and the same measures saved [one] residence” and “the cottages owned by the Humboldt Improvement Co.”

It took only a half-hour for the greater portion of the business section to become a smoldering mass of ruin. Fortunately, the north side of the street was untouched.

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Prescott’s own AJ Head was the principle loser in buildings. He related that insurance would only cover half of the $6000 value. He decided not to rebuild, displacing several businesses and workers. Most of the destroyed buildings were simple frame structures and on “the majority of them the insurance companies would not carry a risk,” the paper explained. 

“The stock of the Francis-Miller store, valued at over $10,000 was insured for $3500 and the fixtures $2000. Shumate’s losses were $1600 of which about half was covered by insurance.” This loss did not include about $400 in cash that was squirreled away in a box and could not be reached without risking life.

“Mrs. Ricketts, whose restaurant was consumed, also suffered in having at least $500 in cash burned. Reports [were] also in circulation that other houses destroyed contained money ranging as high as $2500, which was likewise consumed.” The exact cause of the fire was never determined. No one was injured.

George Francis of the Francis-Miller mercantile stated before the end of the month that it was decided to rebuild an even larger store immediately “for which there is an urgent demand since the fire,” the paper declared. One owner who lost his business opened up a ice cream and confectionary store in a building that survived.

Humboldt was always a bustling place—whenever the smelter was operating, that is!



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Weekly Journal-Miner, 7/20/1910; Pg. 7, Col. 5.

Arizona Journal-Miner, 7/28/1910; Pg. 1, Cols. 3-4.

Arizona Journal-Miner, 7/29/1910; Pg. 4, Col. 3.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/3/1910; Pg. 4, Col. 6.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/24/1910; Pg. 2, Cols. 1-4.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/24/1910; Pg. 5, Col. 4.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/31/1910; Pg. 6, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/31/1910; Pg. 5, Col. 2.

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