Helena, MT Harvey Hotel Fire, May 1953

Fire at the Harvey Hotel


Smoke and flames from a basement fire spread upwards through a large partition wall this afternoon, driving patrons from the four-story Harvey hotel in downtown Helena. All available city firemen and police were called on duty in the battle to control the unseen flames.
BLAIR BRACKEN, bell hop and ROGER PORTER, nearby garage owner, made their way through the thick smoke in the upper three stories in a room by room check to make sure that all patrons of the hotel were out of possible danger.
They were unable to check one room, No. 327, because of the thick smoke. All in that room was MIKE H. McLAUGHLIN, retired liquor warehouse employe.
McLAUGHLIN was brought to safety by firemen who went over the top of the EDDY bakery, across the alley on a roof and into the annex. McLAUGHLIN was sticking his head out of his annex room window to get air.
McLAUGHLIN said he discovered the smoke shortly after 2 o'clock, shut his transom and decided to wait and see what happened. The thick smoke trapped him in his room.
Fire Chief JOE MUNGER and his men were attacking the unseen fire from both front and rear of the 83-room hotel. MUNGER and one crew were working forward in an underground tunnel under the one story cafe-annex which appeared to be the starting point of the fire.
Other firemen were shooting water into the unoccupied cafe front.
In the lobby of the hotel, smoke was emitting from every crack and crevice in the south wall. Light fixtures, the drinking fountain, doorways and floor edges were shrouded with thick smoke.
The fire alarm was turned in at 1:45 o'clock by MRS. ORA RUSSELL, day clerk, after NADA BERKLAND, employe of the Merle Norman studio which has offices in the lobby, opened a basement door and saw smoke rushing up the stairway.
MRS. RUSSELL said she had thought she smelled smoke about noon and sent BRACKEN to check the basement.
"I checked over the entire basement and could not see or smell any sign of smoke," BRACKEN explained, his eyes red from a rapid check through the smoke-filled rooms.
"The higher you go in the hotel the thicker the smoke gets. It's pretty bad near the top floor."
BRACKEN and PORTER were unable to get above the first floor in their first try. The second time they obtained pass keys and started their check.
Immediately after the fire report was telephoned, MRS. RUSSELL started a telephone check of the rooms to arouse the 42 patrons.
"Six or seven people were warned of the fire by that method," Police Chief JOHN E. FRED said.
Both MUNGER and BOB JOHNSON, son of Owner MRS. A. JOHNSON, said they believed the fire had started at the front of the building in the basement. They placed it as near a ventilating shaft on the cafe side of the basement.
Because of the huge volume of smoke and inability to penetrate it without masks, the firemen were fighting blind, throwing water into areas where the smoke appeared to be thickest.
Shortly after 2 o'clock the ceiling of the adjacent Union Bank and Trust company building took on the appearance of a fog. Upper floor rooms also were filling with smoke.
Firemen were pouring water into the hotel basement and into the rear of the structure in an effort to control the flames.

Independent Record Helena Montana 1953-05-19