Biloxi, MS Fire, Nov 1900 - Swept by Flames, part 1

Swept By Flames

Property Valued at $600,000 Goes Up in Smoke this Morning.

Ninety Buildings Burned

Fire Originates in the Rear of Kennedy’s Saloon and Aided by a Northeast Gale Eats Its Way Down Reynoir Street to the Beach.

From Friday’s edition.

Owing to the disastrous fire the Herald postponed its issue until this afternoon in order to give its numerous readers an account of the incident. In consequence of the lateness of this publication there will not be another issue of the Herald until Sunday morning.

Biloxi has just passed through a fiery ordeal, perhaps the worst ever known in a southern city of her dimensions, certainly the worst ever known to her. This morning one of her fairest portions lay in ruins, not only in the business section, but in the residential as well. Some of the handsomest mercantile structures were destroyed by the insatiate devouring element, and many of the handsomest residences along the beach were also lost. If a comparison can be made this fire was to Biloxi what the famous Chicago conflagration was to that city, and the loss, suffering and destitution will be in the same proportion.

The history of the fire so far as can be ascertained is about as follows: At about 12:15 flames were discovered issuing from a small warehouse in the rear of Kennedy’s saloon, opposite the depot, and in a very few moments, under the heavy north wind prevailing, it was completely destroyed. The fire then turned in both an easterly and westerly direction, destroying with remarkable rapidity the restaurant and barber shop of a colored man named Conner on the east, and then Mr. John J. Kennedy’s saloon on the west. With this start the fiery demon began consuming one after another the structures on both sides of Reynoir street, after which it seemed to burst all bounds, and took everything in its grasp over a very large area, extending from the Louisville and Nashville railroad tracks, (including the depot of the latter), all the way to the beach. In its mad course, nothing was spared. The fire department and citizens did their duty in the most noble manner, but all their combined efforts were powerless to stay the ravages if the flames.

As to the origin of the fire accounts differ and theories differ. By some it is contended, or asserted, that it started from the sparks emitted by the smokestack of the electric lighting plant, which is just opposite the initial point of the conflagration, while those in charge of the plant say that the first they knew of it was the hearing of an explosion in a small warehouse or storage room in the rear of Mr. Kennedy’s saloon, and the flames had secured good headway almost simultaneously. The engineer in charge of the plant at once began blowing his shrieking steam whistle to arouse the citizens of the dangers that menaced the city, and continued to do so until the clanging of the fire bells gave further warning.

Owing to the manner in which the city is constructed it is almost impossible at this writing to compute the number of buildings destroyed, but a gentleman who is quite observant in such matters, this morning said he esteemed that there were some 28 structures destroyed east of Reynoir street and between 55 and 60 west of that thoroughfare, making the aggregate more that 80 at the minimum.

The loss would be even more so difficult to estimate, because of the varied character of the structures that were laid low, and the varying character of the values of their contents. Big mercantile and commercial establishments were all drawn into the vortex, as well as the handsome homes of the well to-do or wealthy, and the humbler homes of the poorer classes, but none were exempt, all sharing a similar fate. Probably a moderate estimate of the loss sustained would be $650,000, though in the final summing up it may be more, but certainly not less.

Among the heaviest losers are: Messrs. John J. Kennedy; L. Lopez, L. Lopes & Co.; T. P. Dulion & Co.; E. Baker; Kennedy & Co.; Fred Querens, of New Orleans; the Voisedichs; the West End Saloon; the Catholic congregation, and some few others.

The wide swath that the flames cut in their pathway to the beach was most painfully visible this morning to the hundreds of visitors to the scene. From its initial point at Kennedy’s saloon it was plainly traceable up Reynoir street to Howard avenue carrying its destructive work up both sides of that avenue to The Herald office, almost, on the east, and to and including the beautiful Catholic church on the west, and thence to the beach on the south, wiping out whole blocks in its path. The variable winds prevailing caused it to change its course at times, but nevertheless in whichever way directed ruin followed its course. The gallant fire-fighters were powerless to combat it, and it continued its work until apparently tired of its wild orgie, and satisfied with the devastation it had wrought.

Biloxi has had several most disastrous conflagrations in its comparatively brief history, but there has been none to compare with this; none where the pecuniary loss has been so great; none where so many structures have been destroyed; none where so much destitution and suffering has been created, and none to compare with it in any respect in its appalling and calamitous results. But as she has ever done, Biloxi will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes, and will be inspired and encouraged to greater efforts than ever before to recoup her losses and obliterate the great wounds that have been inflicted upon her.

Among the structures destroyed were some of the handsomest in the city. The store of T. P. Dulion & Co., a splendid three-story brick building that would have done credit to any city in the state; the handsome drug store of Kennedy & Co., built of brick, and completed only within the past few weeks, the big establishment and the palatial residence of Mr. L. Lopez, and the Catholic church, were amongst them, to say nothing of the smaller and less pretentious business and residential properties that were absorbed into the insatiate maw of the fire fiend. It was indeed sorrowful this morning to contemplate the havoc that had been wrought within a few brief hours by the devouring element, but as we say our energetic, progressive citizens will not be cast down by the catastrophe, but will burnish up their armor, sharpen their swords, and go bravely to work to recover their various losses and rehabilitate their fortunes.

Continued in part 2, below