Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bedbugs Cause Fire!

Virginia City in the 1860's was a tinderbox. Frame houses, tents, open flames and the "Washoe Zephyr" (the strong breeze that often blows for a few days) meant that fire was a constant threat. Reporter Alf Doten was living in Virginia City in 1865. One Sunday evening in August he was attending a show at Maguire's Opera House (below: the big building between the flag and the church) when everyone heard fire alarm bells and rushed outside to see what was burning. Here's the story in his own words, from his Journal:

Sunday, Aug 6 [1865] Clear & pleasant - a little breezy... Evening went to Maguire's - performance commenced & got nearly through to the Walk around when about 9 o'clock the fire bells rang, & all hands rushed - I with the rest - Clark was with me - fire was on east of C st just south of Taylor among a lot of wooden buildings - commenced in an upper story of a paint shop - lodging room, occupied by Sam Brose (formerly of Como) and others - Sam says he was hunting bedbugs with a candle on the wall - wall of cloth and paper caught fire, and he couldnt put it out, it burnt with such rapidity - He caught up what he could and skedadled - Engines were on the ground very promptly, as usual - fire spread to buildings on each side, but it was soon subdued and extinguished - paint shop pretty well destroyed - other buildings but little damaged - loss two or three thousand dollars - Winnie Wright and Pat Barry of the H-L got hurt by some of the falling of an awning upon them - Clark & I went to Music Hall & saw the performance out...

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