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The Great Fargo Fire Aftermath


Many American cities in the 19th century were plagued by raging fires made more dangerous in their devastation by a combination of wooden buildings and limited firefighting practices. Heating by wood and coal-fired stoves was as much a threat as it was a comfort in the 1800s. Wooden buildings in town, resting closely side by side above wooden boardwalks were primed for out-of-control fires.

In 1876, Fargo watched at least 10 buildings burn down. The next year the first fire ordinance was passed and a hook and ladder rig was purchased by the newly organized, and aptly named, Pioneer Fire Company. The company was an all volunteer department, yet not officially organized. Another fire company was added with the colorful name of Ladder Company Number One Hard, acknowledging the importance of the region’s key crop – number one hard red spring wheat. In 1980, John Haggart, one of the region’s influential citizens and personalities, was named chief of the consolidated fire companies.

Following the Pioneer Fire Company’s official organization, it joined the Number One Hard Company with a new name – the Continental Hose Company Number 1.

The following year, two new hose houses were built as the Fargo Fire Department became more organized – one on Broadway by the NP tracks and the second on 5th Street and Front Street (today called Main Avenue). In the next few years fire alarm systems were installed with 15 boxes placed strategically around town. A team of horses was purchased for a new hose cart. Fires were battled throughout the next years, but nothing like the great one on the horizon.

On June 7, 1893 behind a Front Street dry goods store, directly across the street from a fire station, discarded ashes from a woodstove tossed from the back door in the early afternoon soon popped into flames and licked up the store’s wall. The ensuing fire rapidly jumped from building to building and was soon uncontrollable. By the early evening 160 acres of Fargo, a majority of the town, had turned to smoldering ruins. Firefighter W.H.Johnson died this day from burns he received in the fight.

The city faced a loss between 4 and 5 million dollars, but thanks to community resolve – and generous insurance payments – the city was re-built. Brick masonry, improved architectural design and new fire codes gave second life to Fargo and a pathway into the safer next century.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark




Engelhardt, Carroll, 2007 University of Minnesota Press, Gateway to the Northern Plains Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead