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Auburn, ME Devestating Fire, May 1933

1500 HOMELESS AT AUBURN; FLAMES DESTROY 248 BUILDINGS IN MAINE CITY.

Auburn, Me., May 16. (AP) -- Restoration of a gaping hole in its New Auburn section where 248 buildings including the homes of one-twelfth of the city's population were destroyed by fire yesterday with loss exceeding $1,000,000 was the problem facing this city today. The homeless
most of whom were of foreign extraction -- workers in the mills of Lewiston, across the Androscoggin River -- were estimated by City Manager Frederick Ford to number approximately 1500.
The section of the city thickly covered with tenement buildings was more congested than usual, the city manager said, many families sharing their quarters because of economic conditions. Some of the structures, he said, housed half a hundred families. Most of the victims, possibly three-quarters of the number, Ford estimated, found shelter with relatives and friends in other sections of the city. The others were being cared for by relief agencies.
Four companies of National Guardsmen, serving as civil officers, still patrolled the fire-swept district. Today and all last night spectators and persons whose homes had been destroyed, were barred from the area. Only officials and workmen laboring to clear the debris strewn streets were permitted inside the fire lines.
The blaze started about 1 p.m. in Pontriand's Garage, from what cause firemen had been unable to determine. A high wind flung the flames in three directions, igniting closely packed tenement houses. The tinder-dry structures, three to five stories high, burst into flames with incredible rapidity. A triangular space containing nearly 20 buildings was a roaring furnace almost before the first hose line was laid.
Vast billows of smoke, laden with burning brands and embers, rose from the flames, bits of burning material were carried for blocks, setting fires in advance of the main blaze and isolating whole blocks of buildings -- all doomed to ultimate destruction.
The tenants of the close-packed buildings poured into the streets, dragging their household goods behind them. Practically all the victims were of foreign extraction, French, Greek, Italian.
The streets were a bedlam of chatter, frantic refugees running to and fro in confusion, ignorant of the direction in which safety might be found.
The fire started near a street junction and spread fanwise across four streets. It climbed up from the tenement section, spreading to higher ground parallel to the Androscoggin River.

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article | by Dr. Radut