Fri, July 19

1898: JEROME FIRE; Death and Destruction, September 11, Part 1.

"THE GREATEST DISASTER THAT HAS EVER OCCURRED IN ARIZONA: FIRE WIPED THE TOWN OF JEROME OUT OF EXISTENCE SUNDAY MORNING. In Addition to a Property Loss of Over Half a Million Dollars the Great Horrors of the Catastrophe are Intensified by the Frightful Loss of Human Lives, in Which Eight People are Burned to Death and as Many More Are Missing." ...

"Yesterday was Sunday, and with its sacred breaking, there followed to Arizona one of the greatest calamities in the loss of human lives and destruction of property that has ever occurred in the territory, and it may also be said in the west."

"Jerome, through the agency of fires in the past has suffered heavily, and it would seem that yesterday fate decreed to shatter its previous progressive existence and finally wipe it out."

"It was nearly seven o'clock in the morning when the first alarm was given and the slumberer awoke to realize that a 'shack' in the Italian quarter, back of the Grand View hotel was being consumed by the fiery element. Although people assembled rapidly after the first note of alarm, the flames seemed to be more rapid and spread, licking up building after building. From the beginning of the fire to its end on the hill near the company property, the flames swept with such rapidity and fury that it was simply bewildering. Strong and brave men faltered in performing what was a solemn duty to themselves and their friends, but in the frightful scenes which faced them and theirs to hesitate was only to be lost."

"Eye witnesses with whom we have talked state that it was a horrible panorama, and if the fire progressed in its course, a half dozen and distinct channels for its hideous work seemed to have been created. They can tell nothing. All that anyone knows is that they could see the flames now and then strike against a house with herculean force and their destructive work was accomplished, and they sped on and on. In less than two hours after the alarm an area covering at least the space of five blocks was a smoldering ruin. Structures of the most substantial and approved material were consumed as though they were tissue and seemed to be the fiend's delight. Nothing was spared. Men and women who, by years of industry and thrift, had accumulated household goods and comforts for themselves and theirs saw their all, but their scanty apparel, swept away in a moment. The scene last night is said by arrivals today to have been one of horror and gloom. while no suffering prevails among the people for ordinary necessities, still despair is written on many a countenance."

"Added to the loss of property and the fact that the once thrifty town is no more, that its 2500 people in most instances are destitute, the grim reaper of death covers over the scene of desolation, intensifying the frightful work of destruction and causes the beholder to pause and reflect in solemn silence. Many men as well as some children are missing. Eight charred bodies of unknown people have thus far been discovered and it is feared that possibly twice that number have perished in the holocaust. No one, however, is permitted to know, and until the smouldering embers have cooled sufficiently to permit a careful search, will the list of casualties be completed, and possibly not then."

"Eye witnesses of the calamity state that after the alarm was given and the utter futility of any effort to arrest the progress of the fire by the application of water stared them in the face, dynamite was resorted to, but it availed nothing. The cinders were carried aloft and would fall on and ignite house after house. In some instances it is said the embers traveled a distance of over two hundred yards, igniting even wagons. The water supply was inadequate and was only effective on the few remote and isolated buildings."

"Yesterday broke as one of the prettiest days in the Black Hills range, and all Jerome seemed to hail its advent with joy. Not a breath of air was stirring and the climatic conditions had suddenly changed from uncomfortable heat to mild and invigorating conditions. People were glad and were preparing to welcome the change in outdoor exercise. Our informant says that many were preparing for an outing, little realizong what was to face them, probably the greatest disaster that will ever befall them. The scenes enacted are said to have been pitiable in the extreme particularly so among women. Frenzied at the loss of all, it is related how women watched in tears, their homes go up in smoke, and men heroically endeavoring to stem the tide of destruction to save only nothing. Little children clung to their mothers in terror of the dire calamity."

"In property lots it is difficult to make even an estimate. The valuation of homes can only be computed by the service they have rendered to the poor in the past and which could be relied on in the future. In cases like this it is a matter not of what they originally cost, but what they would be worth in the future. In cases, however, like the houses owned by the United Verde company, numbering at least fifty, and having a valuation of $2000 each, the magnificent hospital building, and general merchandise, saloons, hotels and other business houses, some idea may be had and rough estimates placed on the valuation of their stocks, Many people familiar with the business pursuits of Jerome people and conversant also with its building and real estate features, place the loss at figures ranging from a half to three-quarters of a million dollars. There was but little insurance, the total aggregating less than $50,000. The loss is then complete, as it is stated not even the commonest articles of use were saved. Much merchandise and other valuable goods were removed to places on the hillside but the heat became so intense that nearly everything was destroyed in the end. Following are some of the principal losers:"

"Dave Connor, lost all, insurance nominal, fine hotel, value $40,000."

"Con O'Keefe, lost all, general merchandise, insurance nominal, value $50,000."

"Merrill Bros., general merchandise, etc., lost all, insurance nominal, value $25,000."

"Hoover & Cordiner, lost all, Resort, insurance nominal, value $10,000."

"The Senate saloon, loss $6,000, insurance nominal."

"The Annex, loss $7,000."

"George Lanham, loss $7,500."

"Hooker & Co., loss $7,500."

"Joseph Tamborino, loss $10,000."

"Mrs. Boyd, lodging house, loss $6,000."

"St. Charles hotel, loss $6,500."

"Samuel Landon, furniture, etc., $15,000."

"Jerome hotel, loss $20,000."

"Grand View hotel, loss $25,000, insurance nominal."

"Fifty company cottages, loss $100,000, insurance nominal."

"Also, at least 200 additional places of business, including confectionery, tobacco, fruit, barbershops, meat markets, and like places, aggregating a big sum."

"As to the origin of the fire, of the many versions, the most acceptable is that a company of Italians were having a 'blow out' that night and in the course of their carousals, threw lighted cigarettes around carelessly, one of which ignited some waste paper near a can of gasoline, which carried an explosion and set the building on fire."

"Among those who have been identified in the ruins are the following: a Mexican woman and her two children; Wilford, an undertaker; a dry goods clerk, name unknown; two laborers, names unknown. Among the missing tonight the number is placed at fifteen.

"Many handsome compliments are paid Messrs. Giroux, Allen, T. F. Miller, and his son Walter, and others, for the generosity they are extending to the unfortunates. The big boarding house of the company is thrown open to all alike. Clothing, tents and cots are being furnished, and nothing is permitted to be lacking. This sympathetic consideration to the afflicted is the only bright side of the disaster, and endears these people to all alike."

(Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; Prescott; September 14, 1898; page 1.)