No one watching could forget the Great Seattle Fire. Eyewitnesses described
buildings succumbing to a wall of flame and a roar that could be heard for miles.
The big blaze broke out in early June during a storybook spring. Seattle,
a timber town of wooden boardwalks and wooden buildings, had yet to
stake its claim as an urban giant.
The aftermath appeared as “a horrible black smudge, as
though a Hand had come down and rubbed the place
smooth. I know now what wiped out means.”
Rudyard Kipling, British poet
In mid-afternoon, a glue pot overturned in a woodworking shop
downtown. An assistant doused the fire with water. Flames shot
across the floor, licking up scattered wood shavings bathed in
turpentine. Smoke poured from the building and steam whistles
sounded the alarm.
Volunteer firefighters fought thick smoke and scant resources.
Private companies managed Seattle’s water supply and the fire
hydrants were stationed on alternate streets.
The fire ravaged more than 25 city blocks and burned for 12
hours. In no time, a tent city emerged and eventually, the
rebirth of Seattle in brick and stone.
“The flames it seems were rising higher and higher and the front
of the fire was lengthening every minute,” writes Henry McClure,