Marysvale fights fire
(Piute Chieftain, 20 April 1916)
Bucket Brigade Is Formed.
Flames Overpowered, But Re-appear in Morning and Completes Its Mission of Destruction &endash;
Residence and Store of J.D. Bertelsen Disappear in Flame and Smoke
At about 11 o'clock Saturday night, last, a shrill scream of "Fire," "Fire," startled the residents of the central part of Marysvale. It was the agonized vice of Mrs. J.D. Bertelsen, from the roof of whose home flames were bursting. Others took up the always fearful cry. And within a few brief minutes a large crowd of men, women and children had gathered. The Saturday night dance was suspended, and the merry-makers added their numbers to the almost terror-stricken spectators. An addition to the front of the Bertlesen building had been recently erected, and in which Mrs. Bertlesen carried a stock of merchandise. Within fifteen feet of the then blazing structure is the large frame building owned by the Cameron Mercantile Company, and filled with merchandise. During a few minutes the spectators comprised an unorganized mob, but cool heads soon brought something like order out of chaos. A bucket brigade was formed, and water drawn from the Cameron well. Then some thoughtful one turned a stream of water into the sidewalk ditch. Then began a most determined fight to extinguish the flames which were leaping high into the still air.
The fire originated in the northwest bedroom, occupied by Horace and Lane Bertlesen, who a short time before the fire had gone to the dance. Improvised battering rams were used on the walls and openings made for water. Men scaled the roof and partly subdued the surface flames, when holes were cut and water poured in from the top. It was a hard fight, but within a comparatively brief space the fire was under control and was believed to be completely extinguished. The dancers, some of them drenched to the skin, returned to the ballroom, while the remainder of the frightened spectators dispersed, deeply grateful that results were no more disastrous. Mr. J.D. Bertlesen watched the building for some time, and believing that the last spark of fire had ben extinguished, also retired.
At about 4:30 the following morning the sleeping residents were again roused by the firing of pistols. Those nearby jumped from warm beds and rushed to doors and windows of their dwellings. The Bertlesen building was again in flames. It was several minutes before a crowd collected and another bucket brigade organized. By that time all hope of saving the flame-swept structure was abandoned, and all efforts were transferred to saving the Cameron store. Ladders were hoisted on both sides of the building, and streams of water from dozens of buckets were pouring over the roof and side nearest to the roaring furnace, fifteen feet distant. As soon as the building was well soaked the impromptu fire brigade turned their attention to the burning wall of the residence nearest to them, and held the flames in check until other willing hands toppled the most of the wall inward, when the danger was passed.
Men came down from the roof of the store building with faces blistered and eyebrows singed. Lafayette King received a cut on his head from a bucket thrown by some one during the height of the excitement. It was a grateful, happy crowd upon which the sun rose that morning &endash; happy because the disaster was not several times greater. Had the usual morning breeze, which sweeps over, and down from, the Tushar divide been active no mortal power could have saved the central part of the town from being wiped out. Along with at least a doze buildings the large and ancient pine, standing at the corner of Bullion Avenue and State Street, and not more than seventy feet from the fire, would have become a huge pyramid of resinous flame. The Grand Hotel and many other good buildings could not have been saved, and Marysvale would have been in deep mourning.
Spencer Gibbs proved himself to be a shining example of the absent-mindedness so characteristic of the family. At the beginning of the second effort to stay the work of destruction he ran to the burning building, "shed" his mackinaw, hung it on the fence about ten feet from the flames, climbed on the roof of the Cameron store and aided in combating the flames. Subsequently, when the chilly morning air reminded him of his mackinaw, he made a search for it. Some thoughtful spectator had snatched the remnant of the burning garment from the fence and thrown it in the water ditch.
Another example of temporary semi-dementia was observed, but the name of the perpetrator is mercifully withheld. A strong, full grown man secured an auto air pump. He inserted the proper end of the pump in the water ditch, and began pumping for dear life. A tiny jet of fluid emerged, and occasionally reached as high as the fringe of fire along the eave of the building. It was the first imitation of fire-fighting apparatus introduced in Marysvale, and will doubtless be the last of its kind.
Many strangers were among the fire fighters whose identity is unknown, but the list of names, so far as can be remembered, of those who made the heroic fight to save the Bertlesen building, and to prevent the spread of the conflagration, should be recorded in the files of The Chieftain. They are: Mayor Garfield James, Leonard Stark, Lee Fairbanks, R.I. Blakeslee, Percy Allred, Erastus and Swening Anderson, Andrew Burgler, Orson and Homer Taylor, R.I. Luker and son Earl, Henry Keifer, Norval and Aldus Borg, Jess Cherrington, Odeen Luke, J. Dana Gibbs and son Oren, H.P. Crowell, Arthur King, Dave Young, Boatman brothers, John Williams, Lafayette King, John Sandberg, Frank Sargent, J.W. Henry, Spencer Gibbs, Sidney Black, Roy Halliday, Wm. Outzen, Leo Stocks, Melvin Howes, Joseph Grundy, Vic Bird, George Haws, Clarence Hamil, Chas. Cropper, Sheb, Byron and Arlo Dalton, Horace and Lane Bertlesen, August Nelson, Claude Kenyon, George Hansen, Frank Craner, Jess Hansen, J.D. Montague, leader of the Elsinore orchestra, Lote Kinney, LeGrand Stewart, Andrew Jensen and son Charlie, William Dennis, John T. Fuller and M.F. Murray.
Among those who dared the flame and smoke by crawling down through a hole in the roof, and among the burning rafters poured water on the flames, are Jack Le and Curtis Boatman. Among the lads who worked valiantly on the bucket brigade were Phil Fairbanks, Harvey Gibbs and R. Petersen, each aged about eleven years.
On the twentieth of next month a bond election will be held. The question of "yes" or "no" to the water system will confront the property owners of Marysvale. And after Marysvale's unhappy experience with fires during the last few years, is there a "dime-squeezer" in town so utterly, hopelessly and damnably dead to civic progress as to vote "no"?
There is yet another and even more important side to this question, a water system, tan that of fire protection &endash; that of protecting the health and lives of the residents. It is a notorious fact that from the water of Pine creek and all but one or two wells there is not a drop of unpolluted drinking water in Marysvale. Our wells have been condemned by a representative of the State Board of Health. The danger from epidemics of typhoid, diphtheria and other deadly contagions are ever present. Have we lived in the backwood so long that we have become fossilized, dead to every desire for advancement? If we have, we had better move on. Marysvale will forge to the front in spite of the "dead ones," and many of its inhabitants will not feel "tu hum" in a live, progressive town.
Mr. Editor, that you may be relieved from all responsibility for the seemingly harsh terms embraced in the last two paragraphs, I will cheerfully subscribe myself as respectfully yours, J.F. Gibbs.
Copyright 2006 by Ardis E. Parshall