A black and white postcard of the aftermath of the October 14th 1908 fire. Men can be seen combing through the ruins. The front caption at the bottom in white: “Bisbee in the grip of fire, Oct, 14-08” Written on the back in ink: “You need not return this picture.” The postcard is unused and was published by the Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York under the AZO label.
Bisbee’s great fire of October 14th 1908, broke out at 6:10 pm, originating as small flames in a closet of the Grand Hotel. Two men, Tommy Blair and Sam Frankenburg, were the first to spot it but were unable to put it out without a hose. The blaze spread from the first floor to the upper floors above and then further out. From the Grand Hotel, the fire quickly spread to the Norton building and the Letson block. The rapid spread of the fire was temporarily stalled by the Elk’s building, with brick construction and also just recently furnished. Though in time, the building was consumed and the fire spread. The post office was evacuated, and the contents taken out to be put under armed guard. The Johnson-Henninger building stood against the heat of the burning Fair Store along with the Angius block. Like with the Chihuahua Hill fire a year earlier, dynamite was used to great effect and halted the fire before it consumed the entire town. The Uncle Sam building and the Bisbee Hardware Company were blasted to create a firebreak. Thanks to firefighting efforts, the blaze was contained on Clawson Hill before it spread to School Hill. In the chaos, merchants tried to save their stock from being consumed in the flames. People arrived from Warren and Lowell, some to help their friends while others only came to spectate. The fire was reportedly so bright that it could be seen from 140 miles away from Pinal Peak and it blazed for three hours. The water used to fight the fires came from two tanks on the top of Bucky O'Neill hill. Unfortunately, the water came from the mines and a good amount of mud had also been pumped into the tanks, hindering firefighting efforts. In the end, there were no deaths directly from the blaze despite the devastation, the only casualties were from a pair of pets: A canary was taken from its cage by a frightened little girl and accidentally crushed to death and the other, a pet rabbit, was taken by a child who became lost in the gulch in the chaos and fell, breaking the back of her pet. The only near misses occurred in the Grand Hotel: A four-year boy, father named Weldon, was sick with typhoid fever had to be carried down from the third floor. A plumber, Toney Estes, had to escape out a window landing on a blanket brought by Al Stu held by a crowd of people led by also from the third floor, he escaped unharmed outside of a sprained back. In the aftermath, 500 people were left homeless and $750,000 worth of damages (about $23,403,950 in 2021) were caused; the greatest losses were at the Frankenburg Brothers Fair Store with a loss of $300,000 ($9,360,000 in 2021) . Public buildings spared from destruction including the Loretto Academy, Central School, YMCA and Philadelphia Hotel, were open to the newly homeless while some homeowners threw their doors open for the remainder. Among the buildings lost to the blaze were the Elks Club, the Johnson Hotel, The Norton House, the JB Angius store, warehouse and home, along with other businesses and boarding houses. Insurance coverage was only $100,000 and a relief benefit dance was held at the Opera House, with the Bisbee Band providing music. The city of Douglas sent letter of condolences and offer of help, along with the cities of Tucson and San Francisco. Bisbee’s relief committee remained active in the aftermath, their efforts focused on the widows who ran boarding houses and the families of men who were ill, injured, and the out of work. For a week following the fire, the butcher E.A. Tovrea offered a supply of meat to anyone who needed it. The department store offered steep discounts to the families who had lost their belongings. The Bisbee Daily review dedicated a column of lost and found items after the fire which included a violin cuff buttons, watch fobs, a red bird cage, bonnet plumes and a brass cuspidor or spittoon. Bisbee’s reconstruction was immediate and focused on fire proofing; utilizing brick, concrete and steel., among those reconstructed the Grand Hotel was rebuilt in another location on the same street reopening in 1909.