San Rafael, CA Downtown Fire, July 1957
SAN RAFAEL FIRE DAMAGE TOPS MILLION.
19 BUILDINGS BURN AS INFERNO RAGES IN DOWNTOWN AREA.
San Rafael, July 30 -- Wind-whipped flames destroyed 19 business establishments in downtown San Rafael last night in the worst property loss in the city's history.
Damage is estimated at more than a million dollars.
Heat from the raging blaze was so intense that steel street llight poles were bent like molten candles.
The fire raged down both sides of Fourth St., in the main business section, between D and E Streets.
More than 250 firefighters and 50 pieces of equipment from throughout Marin County, military establishments, and San Francisco converged to battle the blaze.
No one was seriously injured.
The 80 year old Odd Fellows Hall, a two-story landmark here throughout the memory of older residents, was destroyed as the flames raged over the area.
Persons living in a three-square block area in the Fourth St. section were ordered out of their homes as police and firemen sent out a general alarm alerting the entire city.
The California Highway Patrol closed U.S. Highway 101 as the city's streets became jammed with traffic.
Power lines fell early in the blaze, blacking out six business blocks around the fire area.
The fire was under control at 9:15 p.m., but firemen stayed at the scene throughout the night.
Started In Barn.
The fire was reported at 7:45 p.m. by MRS. ONA KROMREL, who lives in an apartment at 1438 Fourth St. She said she ran outside when she smelled smoke and saw an old barn behind BROWN'S Furniture Store "go whoosh" when it was covered with flames.
MRS. KROMREL led an 83-year-old tenant, MRS. JOSEPHINE LAIR, to safety and then assisted MRS. SHIRLEY HILDEBRANDT, wife of Airman KENNETH HILDEBRANDT, and the couple's two small children to leave. The airman was on duty at Hamilton Air Force Base.
As she left the building for the final time, fire exploded in AYERS Paint Shop on the ground floor.
A stiff wind kept the fire racing ahead of efforts of firemen to contain it.
Huge fountains of fire leaped into the air giving a fiery show to residents throughout the area. Embers started some 30 roof fires. They were quickly extinguished.
Roof Fires Spread.
One house was destroyed. It was that of MRS. THERESA RONAN, a deputy county tax collector, at 1011 D St. MRS. RONAN'S daughter, MRS. DOLORES THORNHILL, and her son, RONAN, 9, escaped.
Both KEATON'S Mortuary at fifth and E streets and that of HARRY WILLIAMS at Third and D Streets evacuated bodies.
Some canaries and parakeets were freed when a Chinese cook, ART CHONG, of 717 B. Street, ran through the smoke to kick in the windows of the Happy Pet Shop.
City Councilman LOUIS BAAR was at the Elks Club with Dist. Atty. WILLIAM O. WEISSICH.
"When we heard the siren we dashed out and looked down the street," BAAR said. "All we could see was one big mess. It was already uncontrollable."
"I was terrified to see a man, his arms loaded with books, come out of the Christian Science reading room, with flames almost on his back."
The P. G. & E. Building at the corner of Fourth and E Streets escaped the flames, although windows were cracked by the heat. Employees removed the records.
The business establishments burned out included a knitting shop, LEONARDI Brothers Upholstering, the paint company, BROWN Furniture Co., Cottage Book Shop, JOHNSON'S Furniture Store, PHILLIPS Florists, CIVILETTI Sewing Machine Shop, the pet shop, Western Union offices, Christian Science Reading Room, MORWEAR Paint Co., ANTHONY Beauty Salon, ED'S Auto Parts, Vari Mart, MARIN Orthopedic Co., LES OLIVER'S Paint Shop, a skin diving equipment concern, and a title company.
Many persons in the area moved furniture, TV sets, clothing, and other belongings outside to be ready to evacuate should the flames spread to the residential area.
Fire Chief C. M. JOHANSON, who directed the small army of firefighters, said the ready response of other departments to the call for aid kept the fire from spreading east to the courthouse area.
"Most of the buildings in the area were from 50 to 75 years old," he said.
Three firemen suffered minor injuries and volunteers received first aid for cinders in their eyes.
Fire Commissioner HARRY M. WILLIAMS declared "this is the worst fire in the history of San Rafael."
Fire Marchal VIRGILIE CHEDA said the damage may exceed $1,000,000.
Oakland Tribune California 1957-07-30