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The Great Spencer Fire

June 28, 2019
By Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News




By the Associated Press.

Spencer, Ia., June 27. -- A lighted sparkler in the hands of a small boy ignited a fireworks display in a corner drug store today, starting a fire which virtually wiped out the business section of Spencer, a city of 5,000 persons.

Swept up the black and across the street by a gentle southwest breeze, the blaze, encouraged by occasional bursts of fireworks in other stores, razed four blocks of business buildings, causing damage estimated at $2,000,000 by Leo C. Dailey, secretary of the commercial club.

The fire started in the Bjornstad Drug Store. Otto Bjornstad, Jr., a clerk, and several customers, ran to safety, amid the bursts of firecrackers and skyrockets.

Girls in the telephone office were temporarily trapped, but firemen hoisted ladders and carried three to safety while others raced through the flames on the stairway to the open air.

On down the street swept the flames, consuming buildings along the entire block, crossing the street and destroying two blocks on the other side and then consuming the buildings along a side street.

The water supply, already depleted by lack of rain, gave out as additional companies joined with the regulars and volunteers of Spencer. The Little Sioux River water was pumped to the scene and dynamite was used to blast a clear space between the burning structures and adjoining buildings.

Then the fighters tore down the blasted walls and cleared a wide path, cheating the flames of material to carry on their destruction.

Only two injuries and no deaths were reported during the fire. OTTO BJORNSTAD, JR., suffered severe burns to his arm, and O. B. SCOTT, an insurance man, was burned as he attempted to save his records.

Supplementing the work of the fire departments, airplanes rushed further assistance. Will Burnett, Des Moines fire chief, and two of his assistants, flew to Spencer from Des Moines while other planes rushed dynamite and other equipment needed in fighting the blaze.

Far from disheartened by the catastrophe that struck their town, the businessmen and citizens already tonight were planning rebuilding. Approximately 200 stores and offices were destroyed.

"Rebuilding plans of the business district will be started at once and property owners have been called for a meeting to discuss a definite plan," Dailey announced shortly after the flames were gotten under control.

All but two of the owners of the 30 buildings had said they would in all probability rebuild at once.

Burlington Hawk-Eye Iowa 1931-06-28



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