Benton City suffered a devastating loss in 1927 when an entire city block burned. The whole town pulled together to try to stop the blaze and salvage something from the wreckage. This look at small-town disaster shows the realities of life in the past.
The Benton County Advocate July 1, 1927
Shaking the front door like all the town was outside the telephone operator was summonsed from her sleep in Benton City by W. W. Warner, a visiting wholesale dealer in early potatoes from Wapato, put the general fire alarm on the phone line at 3:15 a.m. on June 30. Before many had time to respond to this call the whole back end of the Butcher Shop was ablaze and when the men began to arrive there was no time to be lost.
At first there was some confusion as to where the hose was located but finally it was found at Martinas and attached to the hydrant to find that there was not sufficient pressure. The pressure was soon increased by M. Roop who shut off all irrigation drains from the main water line. By the time the hose was in full play the buildings were a seething mass of flames and were a serious menace to the safety of the Tum-a-Lum Lumber Co., and the Union Pacific depot. A water bucket brigade was formed and water taken from the U.P.. tank to the outbuildings and their roofs soaked. The slightest bit of a breeze would have spelled disaster to every building in the town but not a breath of wind showed up.
The occupants of the hotel were awakened with the smell of smoke and the cry of fire. One man, a sound sleeper and a transient, did not wake up on the alarm so Mr. R.C. Ingram, the hotel proprietor, had to pull him out of bed by the feet and make him wake up. A number did not wake up at once but when they did get started out there was a mad scamper on.
No furniture was saved from the hotel, the only thing being saved was the records.
The present insurance that covers the hotel losses partially was taken out but a short time ago and Mr. Ingram is certainly glad that he had them tended to when he did.
The Merchandise Store was the last to be reached by the flames and good time was made in the removing of the stock from the store. Mr. Argus Hughes estimates she he has some 60 percent of his stock saved and that his insurance will carry the rest of the loss.
Mr. Hughes was sleeping outside at his home and did not hear the general alarm so did not wake up at first but was called by a neighbor and arrived at the fire a bit later than the rest.
Mr. Hughes is intending to start up immediately after the adjuster of the insurance company has been over and checked up his report.
The Post Office
The postmaster stated that all records were saved in the safe that was taken out of the fire before it had become very bad. Nothing else from the office was saved, except the supply of stamps and some change. On opening the safe every drawer was found to have been jarred open and the contents were all somewhat in a jumble.
A temporary post office is being installed at R.H. Martinas place and service was being offered the public at the regular opening hour the next morning. Postmaster Brewster seemed to be very calm after the morning of excitement.
The Butcher Shop
The fire is thought to have started in the electric wiring of the refrigeration plant in the back of the meat market owned by R.S. McAlpin. The hottest part of the blaze started in that part of the block.
Nothing was saved from the building whatever. Some insurance was carried but not enough to care for all losses.
The Barber Shop
The door to the barber shop was never even opened, the fire gaining so much headway that after the hotel guests had been cared for noting could be done in the first story. Mr. Oscar M. Hanson, the proprietor, had just completed his equipment with a number of new conveniences and states that his equipment was partially covered.
The hotel building is the property of Nick Giesen.
The roofs of all the building back of the burned block were badly charred in some places, but no fires were started other than in the block itself by sparks from the burning buildings.
Great courage was shown by the men that handled the 250 feet of fire hose owned by the city and they are to be commended for their fortitude in the hour when other people's property, not their own, was in danger. More than two hundred men were on the job from a few minutes after the first alarm sounded till the fire was past a danger point to the other surrounding buildings.
No one received any injury from falling articles or was anyone in bad spirits when asked about the fire. Each met his particular problem with his head and knew that he had the support of all his fellow citizens.
Aid is offered for rebuilding
Before the blaze had subsided from the buildings private interests in Richland put in their bid to those concerned in the fire for the rebuilding of a single fire-proof two story concrete building to take care of the needs of all the different stores and the hotel which before had occupied a number of structures.
One to five thousand dollars is offered to start with and more can be had as the needs demand. Being the first on the ground in Richland will be given the precedence over other offers that may be received by the Benton City interests at a later date.
Some of the more local insurance men were present but they said that there was nothing they could say until a thorough check had been made of the circumstances surrounding the fire and other technicalities that must be gone through.
A call was put in for the Prosser fire department but as there hose truck was laid up for repairs they could not come. The fire chief came though, accompanied by Sheriff James Shepherd in a care in which they brought some hose but as the fire was so quick in its destruction it was not of any service.