Eureka, MT Hotel Fire, Feb 1950


Eureka, Feb. 6 -- Men continued digging through the ruins of the Montana hotel today for the bodies of three of five victims who died when the two-story frame building was destroyed by flames early yesterday.
Two of the bodies were recovered late yesterday after firemen cooled the charred debris of what was one of Eureka's largest and oldest buildings.
Known dead included two members of the Browning basketball team. They were JOHN POWELL and DELANO GRAYSON, team manager.
Others were CHARLES CAMERON, 84 year old Tobacco valley pioneer rancher; ED LA FRANCE,night clerk in the hotel, and BILL PETERSON, 64, railroad employe.
The fire started at 2:45 a.m. when a furnace exploded. MRS. OSCAR CARLSON, who was sitting in the lobby, said she was jarred by the explosion. She turned around and saw flames shooting up by the desk.
At the same time P. H. DIREMAN was locking a garage nearby when he saw the flames through the front window. He sounded the alarm at the fire station which is located across the street from the hotel.
Fire Chief GEORGE DAVIS, one of the first on the scene said the flames enveloped the ancient structure almost at once. Despite the fact almost the entire population turned out to assist the fire fighters, the building was destroyed in about a half hour, he said.
L. A. RILEY, proprietor, ran through the building and pounded on doors. Members of the basketball team, most of whom were sleeping on the second floor, leaped through windows and landed in a snow filled vacant lot. Because of the fact windows were smashed several suffered cut feet and legs.
Some of the players shouted to the two ill-fated members of the team, but apparently they failed to hear them. Rapid spread of the flames made it impossible for anyone to remain near the building
for more than a few minutes.
Firemen, sensing that the blaze might ignite the long row of wooden buildings on Main street, placed huge signs in front of their bodies as they inched their way toward the DAVIS Cafe next door to the hotel. Pouring a steady stream of water on the wall which separates the two buildings they managed to save the cafe, although one end of the wall was scorched.
The 24-room Montana hotel was known as the J. P. MOSBY hotel at the turn of the century. Around 1920 five apartments were added in the rear. The city's only telephone line as well as the post office, both located in the building were destroyed.
There was little wind, but burning debris was nonetheless carried for blocks by the heat waves, many small pieces landing on the top of homes and business buildings. Firemen credited the heavy snowfall on roofs with preventing what might have been a series of outbreaks throughout the city.
The Browning basketball team, which had squeezed a narrow 49-48 victory over Eureka Saturday night, was moved to a cabin camp near the outskirts of the city after receiving treatment for injuries in jumping. Members sat in silence most of Sunday until they departed by train in the afternoon.
Parents of the boys lost arrived in the afternoon and watched with grim faces as the workers probed the twisted mass of charred wood and pipes which protruded crazily out of the blackened rubble.
Coach JESS LaBUFF, who injured his leg in jumping, waited most of the afternoon as workers separated blackened bedsteads, chimney bricks and huge piles of charred boards in an effort to find the missing bodies. He left on the afternoon train, his face tight, saying, "I couldn't sleep here another night."
CAMERON had recently moved into the hotel from his farm. His funeral had been paid in advance. He told friends a few days before the fire he wished to be cremated and his ashes thrown over the Kootenai.
Workmen found the body of LaFRANCE, the night clerk, fully clothed. They said he had apparently dressed to leave but failed to get out of his room before the walls caved in.
PETERSON, an employe of the Great Northern, was about to retire, according to friends.
Sunday's fire was the fourth serious blaze in Eureka since December 20 when the American Legion hall was destroyed. A large home was burned the first week in January and last Thursday Bud's Coffee Shop, Betty's Beauty Shop and Hank's Barber shop were burned to the ground in 30 below zero weather after an overheated stove spread flames late in the evening.

The Daily Inter Lake Kalispell Montana 1950-02-06