Editor’s Note. When we published Henry Bethea’s article, “The Devastating Earthquake of 1887″ a few days ago, we had the 2nd largest number of visitors to our SouthernArizonaGuide.com ever. The largest by far was our ranking of Best Burgers In Tucson. Since ya’all seem to like disaster stories so much, we thought you might enjoy Mr. Bethea’s fine report on yet another Bisbee disaster.
The following account was written by Henry Bethea for The Copper Chronicles, a joint project of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum & Bisbee’s KBRP Radio Station. He holds the copyright and this article is reproduced here with permission.
1908 Bisbee Fire
In 1908 Bisbee had been around nearly 30 years and no longer looked like a rough mining camp. It was a small city with a growing population, businesses, schools, churches and society–a bright spot in the Arizona territory about to become a state. Theodore Roosevelt was finishing up his second presidential term; Titanic was just a blueprint of the largest ocean liner ever imagined. Life in the high desert could be hard and though the town was well established disaster was always a threat.
The early town was built mostly out of adobe and wood with buildings or dwellings stuck on hillsides or perched in canyons wherever there was an open spot. As the years passed some businesses along Main Street and on Brewery Gulch were enlarged and improved made more permanent with concrete, brick and stone. But Bisbee was still a tender box and by 1908, the town had lived through several major fires, the worst in 1885, 1887 and just a year earlier in 1907. That conflagration started when a gas stove exploded in the Colorado Boarding House on Brewery Gulch destroying 76 houses and damaging 30 others mostly up Chihuahua Hill and resulting in more than $100,000 in losses. The volunteer fire department barely brought the blaze under control finally dynamiting structures to create firebreaks. As a result, the city council in April 1908 established an official fire department with paid firefighters, a horse drawn engine and a proper firehouse on Naco Road. It also cracked down on the construction and repair of wood frame buildings in the fire district, the area that is today’s historic district. These improvements were instituted in the hope that another major fire could be prevented and life made safer for Bisbee residents.
In spite of these efforts, the town burned once again. On October 14, 1908 at 6:10 pm a fire broke out in a closet at the Grand Hotel located then at the corner of Main and Subway streets.
To read the rest of the story, go to SouthernArizonaGuide.com > Local History > Bisbee.