Saturday, May 21, 2005

Fires on 5 Jan 1924

Two houses and five businesses were destroyed in two separate fires in Berea on January 5, 1924. Zero degree weather and strong winds hampered the efforts of fire fighters to contain the blazes. Total damage was estimated at $150,000, only part of which was covered by insurance.

The first fire occurred at about 3:00 p.m. at the home of C.H. Wertenberger. After fighting the fire for an hour, Fire Chief Pruitt Smith abandoned the house because the blaze had reached the old shingles beneath the tin roof and could not be extinguished. Several fire fighters suffered from frozen ears and hands. Smith froze the tips of his fingers and received a burn on his neck. The clothes of many were covered with ice and could stand alone. By 5:30 the house was almost burnt to the ground. Only two tall chimneys stood among the smoldering ruins. The house was owned by Berea College.

Hardly had the flames subsided then the fire siren sounded again. The Berea Deaprtment Store was burning at the West End. In a short time, the sky was lit with a red glare, and smoke belched forth with awe-inspiring massiveness. The northwest gale was even stronger, and within six minutes the entire building was a mass of flames. Wylie's Drug Store fell to the flames, then R.H. Chrisman's Furniture Store. It was thought that the brick wall of the Post Office would stop the spreading fire, but a shower of sparks from the burning water tower behind the stores finally set the roof of the Post Office aflame, and it too burned to the ground. The Fowler residence and the J.O. Oliver business across the street also caught fire. Finally, the blaze was stopped at John Welch's home. The next morning at 9:30, flames were spotted on top of the National Bank building but were extenguished immediately. The fire was believed to have originated in the flue in the grocery of the Berea Deaprtment Store.

See Berea Citizen, 10 Jan 1924.

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