Published: May 30, 2006 11:59 pm
Fighting blazes in Enid with prayers, dynamite
By Phil Brown Commentary
Was it a young boy's prayers or was it dynamite that saved downtown Enid in the big fire
that leveled the south side of the Square in 1901?
The fire that began as a small blaze in the rear of a secondhand store in the 200 block of
South Grand eventually would threaten most of downtown. In those days most of the
downtown structures were substandard, wood-frame buildings, standing shoulder to
shoulder, and made mainly of Southern pine that readily burned.
There were a number of major blazes in downtown Enid during the 20th century, but none
of them had the potential of destroying the entire business district that the 1901 blaze
The fear of fire downtown had been on almost everyone's mind from the town's
After the big blaze, a newspaper editorial criticized the fledgling fire department and its
equipment, advocating a return to the "more efficient" bucket brigades.
It didn't take the fire long to engulf the entire block of buildings in flames. The fire was
spreading rapidly, fanned by a brisk, south wind. It looked as if the flames might leap
across Maine Street, on the southeast corner of the Square, and head up the east side of
the business district.
Gensman's Hardware store, now occupied by Garfield Furniture, was one of the few brick
buildings downtown. The brick wall on the south side of Gensman's halted the northward
movement of the fire.
From that point, the fire burned eastward, destroying everything in its path, until it came
to a creek and burned out.
Embers blowing across South Grand ignited buildings in the 100 block of West Maine. The
entire south side of the Square went up in flames.
In their book "O County Faces and Places" the late Stella Rockwell and Velma Jayne tell
about the late Maud Walker English, who witnessed the fire.
This is her account: "We were living down on `The Row' next to Judge Blanding's house
(The Row was three identical houses on South Grand). The flames licked the Rakestraw
Building, jumped across the street to the Gensman Hardware Store on the corner and
destroyed an adjoining business where tents were made.
"On the west side of Grand the fire continued toward the St. Joe Hotel, which stood about
where the Newton Hotel stands today. Finally, it was decided the only way to stop the fire
was to dynamite the hotel."
Ms. English said in the meantime, 6-year-old Don Blanding, who lived in one of the
houses in The Row had a different solution.
Remembering a recent Sunday school lesson, he laid an open Bible on a chair, knelt down
beside it and prayed the fire would not come across the street to his home. It didn't, and
Ms. English always wondered, "Who knows for sure whether it was the dynamite or Don
Blanding's prayer that stopped the fire?"
There was at least one fire victim who lost more than his building to the fire and to "good
Samaritans" who were "helping" out. He was a local butcher who lived in the back of his
shop. He was carrying his belongings out into the street. Two strangers carried his bed out
into the street. On the bed was a pillow, and underneath the pillow was $1,200 in cash. He
recovered his bed, but not his money. It went bye bye.
In the past 100 years there have been 29 fires in Enid that Enid Fire Department classifies
as major blazes. There are no dollars-and-cents estimate of the damage done by the huge
1901 fire downtown, but it is ranked No.1 because of the number of structures destroyed
and the impact it must have had on the community.
However, it was reported most of the businesses destroyed in that big fire were back in
business within a week, with most of them operating from makeshift tents.
In dollars-and-cents damage lumber company fires dominate the list of major blazes
throughout the past 100 years. The Todd Lumber Co. was destroyed in 1909, but there
was no damage estimate.
The Long Bell Lumber Co. was damaged three different times by fires. The first fire in
1923 was by far the costliest, doing $500,000 in damage. There was another fire in 1936
that did $200,000 damage and a third in 1954 that did an estimated $12,000 damage.
Other lumber companies damaged by fires throughout the years include Leonhardt
Lumber Co., in 1945, and Bank Lumber Co., also in 1945.
Our modern Enid Fire Department with its staff of trained firefighters and state-of-the-art
equipment no longer has to rely mainly on prayers and dynamite.
Brown is a retired News & Eagle editor.