Charleston, WV Business Section Fire, Mar 1949


Charleston, W. Va. -- AP -- Seven firemen were trapped and burned to death Friday as a million dollar fire raged out of control for eight hours in two dime stores.
At least 15 others were injured, two critically, in what was described as the most disastrous blaze in the city's history.
Listed in critical condition at a hospital were Capt. CHARLES CLENDENIN, 39, overcome by smoke, and CARL WIBLIN, 25, burned about the face, hands and chest. Attendants said both had been placed in oxygen tents.
Exhausted firemen wept as the bodies of their comrades were brought out of the Woolworth store basement after the fire was brought under control at noon.
It apparently started in the basement and was well developed when a policeman spotted it at 4 a.m.
One squad of firemen worked down a circular stairs into the basement. Others took hoses into the first story. The floor suddenly gave way. Blazing piles of merchandise, cartons of stock and counters crashed into the basement.
They carried some of the fire fighters along and some of those below were buried up to their arm pits.
"It seemed like the whole store was coming down," said ROY C. HILL, 30-year-old rookie fireman who was swept into the basement but managed to get out.
SHAWKEY JONES said he was able to climb over the debris up to the first floor.
"I reached down and got one of the men by the arms," he related. "I don't know who it was, I couldn't see. I pulled on him and tried to get him out of there. He slipped back away from me."
The dead firemen are:
Most of them were caught when the floor collapsed. COATES, a Negro, went in after the trapped men and didn't return.
All the city's fire fighting strength was mobilized as the blaze swept through the three-story Woolworth building and jumped to the roof of the adjoining Kresge store.
They are located on Capitol Street, the main business thoroughfare. The Woolworth building was burned out. The roof of the Kresge store burned and partly collapsed. The Fleetwood Hotel, next to Kresge's, and the Charleston National Bank building, separated by a fire wall from Woolworth's, were damaged by smoke and water.
Director Charles E. Hodges of the Chamber of Commerce estimated the damage at between $750,000 and $1,000,000. A collection for the benefit of the victim's families started with a spontaneous $200 donation.

Kingsport News Tennessee 1949-03-05