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A Few Smoldering Embers

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Fire was a common on the Great Plains. On this date in 1901, residents of Oakes were assessing the damage in the wake of two recent fires. The most destructive of the two destroyed the Soo Line railroad depot. Railroad agent Anderson worked both a day shift and a night shift, essentially living at the depot. He was waiting for the Tuesday night train when he laid down on his cot to rest. When he woke up, he found his office filled with smoke.

Once he managed to get outside, he saw that the entire office was on fire. He ran downtown and turned in a fire alarm. The fire department arrived within fifteen minutes, but by that time the entire depot was ablaze. By three a.m., only a few smoldering embers remained.

The loss included two harvesters and a piano, plus Anderson’s brand-new typewriter. He also lost seven hundred dollars he was unable to rescue from the flames. A temporary office was set up in a nearby building, and plans were made to rebuild.

The other fire damaged the Cash Mercantile Company. In this case, the fire department was able to prevent an extensive loss. The building and most of the merchandise was saved. Mr. Bittman, the company’s representative, said the insurance settlement was satisfactory.

Bittman was grateful for the quick and effective response of the fire department. The newspaper announced that the Cash Mercantile Company would sponsor a fundraiser for the firefighters. This Firemen’s Ball would be held at the Academy of Music. The Mercantile Company would hire a band and provide refreshments. While the general public would purchase tickets, the event would be free for the firemen.

The fire company would consider the offer at their weekly meeting, but it was almost certain that Bittman’s invitation would be accepted. The newspaper noted that the fire company did excellent work at the fire, which was described as a difficult one to fight. The offer, said the newspaper, demonstrated Bittman’s “generous and liberal spirit” and showed the appreciation that the town felt for the fire company.

Today that protection and service in Oakes is provided by the volunteers of the Oakes Fire and Rescue Unit.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Oakes Republican. “The Soo Depot.” “Firemen’s Ball.” Oakes ND. 8/23/1901. Page 1.

Oakes Fire and EMS Services. “Oakes Fire and Rescue.” https://oakesnd.com/fireservices  Accessed 7/15/2021.

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