HARTFORD - Fire destroyed the center of the south
side of Main St. here Thursday, the fifth time in 90
years that this section of the town has been hit by a serious fire.
Three firemen were hospitalized and a fourth was treated
and released as a result of the blaze.
Demolition of the few walls that remain standing is
expected to start today. Those
with the responsibility are too numb from the effects of the fire to
advance plans for rebuilding.
The City Council Monday night accepted a bid from Yerington
Construction Co., Benton Harbor, to demolish the remains of the burnt-out
buildings, which is expected to take about a week. Cost of the work
will be charged to the properties involved.
Firemen from six departments fought the blaze for
many hours, and it was not until late in the second day that the last
hoses were removed.
The fire was the worst in Hartford's history from the
standpoint of duration and area covered. Damage was estimated at
several hundred thousand dollars, but side effects, such as water damage
to the Main St. pavement will be high to the toll.
Heroic action by a number of high school students saved the
majority of merchandise in the stores which eventually were destroyed by
Cause of the fire, according to Fire Chief Harold Walker,
Sr., and Det. William Rucinski of the fire marshal's division of the state
police, was a mattress set afire by a five-year-old boy playing with a
cigarette lighter. The blaze started in an apartment above the
Hartford Floor Covering store.
First fireman to be hospitalized with smoke inhalation was
David Sinclair. He was followed to Community hospital by Fireman
Larry Weber and Fire Capt. Harold Walker, Jr. All three were
released at noon the next day. Fireman Elwood Jones was treated and
Destroyed in the blaze were,
from west to east, the floor covering store, Rose Drug Store,
Main Tavern, Nona's 5 and 10-cent store warehouse, Disbrow Barber Shop,
and Hitchcock Hardware, along with a vacant building adjoining the floor
covering store on the west.
Fire departments from Lawrence, Paw Paw, South Haven,
Covert, and Keeler came to assist the Hartford department as the County
firemen's association automatic moveup system was put into operation.
Last out-of-town department to leave was Lawrence, which spent
10 1/2 hours fighting the blaze. In addition, firemen from
Watervliet, Kalamazoo, and Sawyer helped as individuals.
Firemen were in action at the scene until Friday night
before the last of the fire was extinguished.
Nurses who work at Community hospital went on volunteer
duty in the council chambers at the City hall to give oxygen to firemen
and treat their nearly-frozen feet. Red Cross and other volunteers served
coffee and sandwiches to tired fighters throughout the blaze, and provided
dry socks and gloves.
Firemen and merchants were high in their praise of Hartford
high school students, who worked feverishly to remove merchandise to
safety from all of the stores involved. Estimates of their efforts
ranged from 50 to 90 percent of store stocks that were carried to safety.
More than half a million gallons of water were poured on
the fire according to Clarence Pomeroy, Jr., superintendent of public
works. At the same time the fire was using 553,000 gallons of water,
regular city consumption totaled 344,000 gallons, posing a strain on the
city's three wells, which pumped to capacity for several hours.
The buildings where were destroyed in last week's fire were
buildings leveled in an 1877 blaze. At that time, the young village
had no fire department.
The same buildings lost last week were heavily damaged in a
fire on Dec. 18, 1946. Serious fires in the same block also occurred
in 1915 and about 10 years ago, but none since 1877 had the devastating
effects of last week's blaze.
Both Main St. and the south alley have been blocked off
since the fire because of the danger that remaining walls might fall.
Police have maintained a 24-hour guard on the scene since the blaze.
Publicity received by the fire attracted a throng of
sight-seers to Hartford Sunday, creating a traffic volume seldom seen in