Burned to the Ground

Burned to Ground

Katalla Company Hospital at Camp 1

Fire which started in the house occupied by John Longacre, electrician for the Katalla Company at camp 1, on Wednesday morning, April 1909, about 1 o’clock, destroyed the building and then spread to the hospital which was also burned to the ground, with a portion of its furniture, fixtures and appliances.

Mr. Longacre’s escape from death was almost miraculous, and was probably due to the cries of the house cat, which roused him from sleep to find the house a mass of smoke and flame.

Mr. Longacre was alone in the house. Mrs. Longacre having gone to Martin Point to join a party which was going on an outing next day to Softuk bar (to fish). He retired about 11 o’clock and was soon sleeping soundly. About two hours later he was partially aroused by a crackling sound, but not fully. Just then the load cries of the cat awakened him completely. He jumped out of bed and made his way to the outer room, which was filled with smoke, while flames were licking up ceiling and walls. He tried to reach a window but found himself again in the bedroom where even the bed was then on fire. Dropping to the floor to escape instant suffocation, he crawled toward the window and fortunately, this time he reached it, just as the wall separating the two outer rooms fell down. Nearly suffocated he fell against the single pane of the lower window, breaking it and then tumbled through the opening to fresh air and life. Getting to his feet he tried to shout but he had inhaled too much smoke and could not. Clad only in his night clothes, and sockless, he make his way to Red Christensen’s house and gave alarm. By the time that Mr. Nathan and others reached the place the hospital building was in the grip of the flames and attempts made to save it, and it was futile, was soon consumed.

katella 1914

It is believed that the fire caught from a terra cotta flue in the ceiling. After escaping from the house Mr. Longacre remembered that he had recently installed a gasoline stove in the kitchen at the rear of the house, and the fire not having reached it, he succeeded in rescuing it intact.

Mr. and Mrs. Longacre lost all their household effects, clothing and other belongings. A portion of the hospital equipment had been packed for shipment to Cordova, and taken to the dock, but a large amount was lost. The hospital was built by the of Katalla Company in 1907, and with equipment, which was an excellent one, probably cost $25,000. The entire plant of the company is covered by insurance.

Excerpt  from Wrangell St. Elias News  March & April 2009


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