Disastrous Fire sweeps the Elk Valley – The Free Press Turns 115 years Old

Fernie, the Coal City of the Kootenays destroyed - Five Thousand People Homeless - Flames Devastated the Entire Crow’s Nest Country.

  • Mon Dec 31st, 2012 8:00am
  • News

August 8 1908

The Prospector Cranbrook (the Free Press was one of the numerous businesses destroyed and was forced to publish from Cranbrook until they got their presses up and running again

FERNIE the coal town of the Nest Pass was completely destroyed by fire on Saturday last.

Fernie is situated in the Elk Valley, north of Coal Creek, and came into existence when Crow’s Nest Branch of the Canadian Pacific was completed. The town was named after Mr William Fernie, who was the discoverer of, and the pioneer locator of the immense coal areas now owned by the Crow’s Nest Coal Company.

Fernie has a population of about 5,000 all supported directly and indirectly by the coal mining industry of the Crow’s Nest Pass. Over 1,500 mines, the largest portion of whom resided at Fernie. On May 22nd, 1902 an explosion in the Coal Creek Mines killed over 130 miners, and plugged the city and district into mourning. Two years later Fernie was visited by a destructive fire which destroyed the entire business portion of the City. In November 1906 the miners of the Crows Nest were on strike for several weeks which caused a serious business depression. Two years later, July 30th 1908, a “bump” occured in the no.2 mine coal creek entombing 30 miners, and two days later the most extensive calamity of all took place, the entire city, with exception of 50 buildings being destroyed by fire, and it is estimated that over 100 persons have perished by being burned to death. The history of the city shows that terrible calamity of some description has visited the city at least once every two years.

For the past month forest fires have been raging in the mountains on both sides of the Elk River valley, and though considered dangerous, yet thought to be faraway from camps, mills. and city to require special attention as to the direction and progress of these fires.

On the morning of August 1st, the attention of mill men were again directed to these fires which was rapidly approaching the timber limits of Eastern B.C. Lumber Cof, at noon the hands at the mill were called out to fight the now rapidly approaching fire. Mill men from the Elk River, and Fernie Lumber Company’s were also called out, but it was too late. A brisk wind fanned the flames along at a rapid pace. The wind increasing wind soon became a tornado sending the flames into the tallest trees, scattering firebrands in every direction. The Cedar Valley Mills, together with 3,000,000 feet of dry lumber was destroyed. Then followed the mills and lumber of the Fernie and Elk River mills together with millions of feet of manufactured lumber was destroyed at these mills.

Railway loss is estimated at $500,000. The Great Northern Railway Company have lost all their depots freight sheds and bridges and upwards of two hundred cars loaded with coal and coke. The Crow’s Nest Coal Company estimate their loss at $150,000, $100,000 of which is covered by insurance. The Trites Wood Company estimate their loss at a quarter of a million, partially covered by insurance, The Free Press lose $20,000 and the Fernie Ledger $20,000 each paper carried about $10,000 insurance. The loss on manufactured lumber and milling plants will amount to over $2,000,000. There were over 1,200 hotels, business houses, churches and residence in Fernie, and there remain standing today one business house and 23 residences.

A number of dwellings to the south was saved by exceedingly hard work with plenty of water. The cause of this safety is particularly attributed to the adjacent park and a growth of green trees which seemed to be part of the flames at this point, only to be reunited in the next block and then on until every other building in the city was destroyed.

For more great stories that ran in The Free Press in the past 115 years http://issuu.com/thefreepress/docs/115_the_free_press/1