|Ruins of the Olsen Block at left|
By Richard I. Gibson
A grim centennial
April 10, 2012 marks the centennial of one of the most expensive fires in Butte’s first 75 years. Someone tossed a cigarette into the hay bin at Campana Feed Company’s warehouse at Iron and Nevada. It quickly erupted into a conflagration that destroyed two entire city blocks and left some 200 people homeless, but while there were some injuries, no one was killed. Nearly half of those driven from their residences lived at the Olsen Block, 741-747 S. Wyoming, where a wall of fire blasted out the windows. The total loss was estimated at $350,000 initially, later revised down to $295,000, but it was still the third most costly fire in Butte above ground before 1946 when old Butte High School burned.
Later in 1912 the fourth worst fire loss in pre-1946 Butte struck on September 1 when the original Thomas Block burned in the middle of the first block of West Park Street. Multiple businesses were burned out with a loss totaling almost $221,000 in dollars of the day. The present building, designed by Butte architect Herman Kemna, replaced the old Thomas Block in 1913.
Other big 1912 fires included the destruction of the Grand Opera House where the Leggat Hotel now stands (May 25, a $24,500 loss), Henningsen Produce (January 11, $21,000), Creamery Café (July 30, $49,000), H&B Block (Oct. 18, $49,000), and Sacred Heart Church (Nov. 17, $26,000).
The greatest fire losses in early Butte were the 1889 fire in the first block of West Granite ($512,000) and the 1905 Symons fire on West Park where the 1906 Phoenix Block stands today ($698,000).
The news of the Campana fire was overshadowed in Butte and around the world by the Titanic disaster five days later.