Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Historic fires and firefighting in Roswell Town

Historically Speaking: Historic fires and firefighting in Roswell Town

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Photo of first described fire started by barber. Smoke pours from buildings on the east side of Main between 1st and 2nd Streets. Behind the trees is George Freidenbloom's barber shop, where the fire started" — Jan. 15, 1893.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Browsing through the old pictures at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives gave me an idea this week for a story. We have many old pictures of fires in Roswell, and of firefighters — the pictures tell their own story. So I decided to look up some Roswell Daily Record articles about fires dating from 1901 to 1910 and their stories that were reported. Some of the articles I’m sharing may not be in full, as I would like to save as much room as possible for the pictures.

Roswell Daily Record, July 14, 1953

“One of the first and most disastrous fires that had hit Roswell occurred in the afternoon of July 3, 1902. The fire supposedly started with an explosion in the back of a barbershop, and flames spread rapidly destroying five business buildings and warehouses on the east side of Main Street between 1st and 2nd St.

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“The fire jumped the alley and destroyed the E. K. Hotel and restaurant. Losses sustained amount into $26,000.

“This fire had supposedly been set by a drunken barber. Supposedly he was having a feud with his brother-in-law who owned the barbershop.”

Roswell Daily Record, Feb. 23, 1910

“Fire In Slack Bin at the Institute This Morning

“Fire from spontaneous combustion broke out in the slack bin of the new barracks building of the Military Institute at 9:30 this morning. For a while, the officers and cadets fought the fire with garden hoses and chemical extinguishers, but they made no headway, losing ground all the while, and the fire department was called out. The two wagons of the department responded in good shape and soon had four streams going that flooded the basement of the building and put out the fire.

“Jack Highham, one of the firemen, had a close call while in a scuttle hole leading to one of the bins. He had lowered himself into the hole to direct the stream of water on the burning coal and was overcome with the fumes and the smoke. He had to be lifted bodily out of the place and carried to fresh air. Artificial respiration soon restored him. The cadets gave valuable service in his rescue.

“The run of the teams up North Hill was a spectacular sight and should have been seen to be appreciated. It is nine blocks run from the fire house to the foot of the hill and four more blocks up that hill to the Institute Corner. The horses had to strain every nerve to keep up the lick going up the hill pulling the heavy wagons.”

Roswell Daily Record, Jan. 3, 1908

“Town spared from a dangerous fire

“The fire alarm at 11 o’clock this morning brought the department in haste to the Oklahoma block, where a brisk blaze in the stove of Dr. Jay. C. Nichols’ upstairs office had set the soot in the flue afire, causing it to burn down through the wall to the big new store of Mr. Snipes. The fire was put out with a little trouble with the chemical extinguishers, but had it ever reached the top of the building where the stiff wind could have fanned it, the south end of town would have been in immediate danger. Rufus Smith owner of the building, presented the fire boys with a check of $25 for their good work. The fire showed the danger of being without a good water system.”

“To Mr. Rufus W. Smith

“Please accept our thanks for check for $25 received today. While we greatly appreciate the money, and assure you that it will be put to good use, we far more appreciate the spirit in which it was given. All property looks alike to us when it is afire, but we are not ungrateful for expressions of this kind.

“Our services are free alike to rich or poor, at all times, night or day and when our efforts are sufficient to warrant donations of this kind, you may be assured that we have a kindly feeling for the giver.

“We trust that you may never need our services again, but should circumstances demand, you may be sure that each member of the department will make a special effort in your behalf. Again thanking you we beg to remain at your call.

“Your servants,

“Roswell Fire Department

“By Chas Whiteman, Chief”

Roswell Daily Record

Monday evening, March 16, 1908

“School Children’s Fire Drill

“A fire drill was executed at Central School building by the children of the building at 3 o’clock this afternoon. The City Council, City Fire Department, and a number of others were invited to come out and witness the drill.”

Roswell Daily Record

May 29, 1905

“Two Fires Last Night

“Business and Residence Visited by Fire Fiend

“Persons Injured

“Several persons severely injured at the Bentley fire. — Main Street fire destroys three buildings, and for a time threatens much valuable property in the business section.

The fire bells rang out last night at 11:55 o’clock, and for a time it seemed like a disastrous conflagration was to be combatted. The fire started in the Stag Saloon, owned by James Dixon, in the block owned by the Sheridan estate, next to the Shelby Hotel on Main Street. It was discovered by H.L. Phillips and wife, who were starting home from the ice factory, where Phillips is employed as night machinist, and they immediately turned in the alarm. The engine arrived at the Hamilton well on Main Street in quick time, and the hose reel was started to be unwound, when it was discovered that there was a kink in the hose and it required the efforts of all available men to get the rest of the hose off the reel and this consumed about 10 minutes. By this time the flames had spread to the Brown barbershop and the little room occupied by W.P. Wood, next to the Shelby Hotel as a sample room for tailor made clothing.

The volunteers did find work and still had the flames under control saving Morrison Brothers and Ullery furniture store.

Roswell Daily Record

April 4, 1907

“Fire Alarm On Windy Day Excites People

“The fire bell sounded at 9:30 this morning and in consideration of the fact that the worst windstorm of spring was in full blast, the alarm caused more than ordinary excitement. It was found that the fence at the rear of Nathan Jaffa‘s residence on S. Richardson Ave. was afire, set ablaze from coals that had been lighted three days ago and had been fanned into life by the wind. The fire was soon put out without much trouble.

“The fire company made a splendid record in running to the fire, in spite of the many jibes that were given the boys by various people. It was just four minutes from the time the bell sounded to the time that the water was running on the fire. Many people do not stop to consider what has to be done in getting the fire department in action. The alarm is set and the bell is rung immediately and the teams are being hitched while the volunteers are assembling from the various stores and shops where they are regularly employed. When the bell has been rung many people begin to inquire where the fire is and make remarks such as: ‘Why don’t the fire wagon come out? I could beat the fire wagon to the fire myself,’ and other such remarks, that are discouraging to the fire boys who are doing the very best they can to save loss.

“Of course, in such times two or three minutes seems an age to excited people and the remarks are to be taken with a whole lot of salt on such occasions. This morning’s fire was no exception, so as far as the remarks were concerned, and the run was extra fine. The fire department, like a city council is always used as a public football for all kinds of kicks and knocks, and the boys would pay no attention to the knockers and go ahead doing their duty the best they can. Their labors will be appreciated by the thinking class of people, and the people who pay the freight.”

“A Second Fire Alarm

“The fire department was called out at 1:30 or noon, to put battle boys in the haystack of Richard Phillips, on the corner of the extreme west end of Fifth Street. It is supposed that a lighted match was thrown in the hay. The damage was light.”