Archives Spotlight: How fire shaped Washington’s city growth

Archives Spotlight: How fire shaped Washington’s city growth

Some of Washington state’s most prosperous cities were, at some time in the past, nearly destroyed by fire. In 1887, a fire reduced half of Walla Walla to ash. In 1889, Seattle, Spokane, and Ellensburg all experienced conflagrations that changed each city’s developmental trajectory.

Most of that era’s residential and commercial structures were wood-framed, which even with stone or brick cladding made them vulnerable to fires. Also, nineteenth-century firefighters’ training and equipment were far below modern standards, which made it much harder to extinguish a fire before the structure was lost.

This startling photo shows just three brave firemen fighting to save the Odd Fellows Lodge from a 1937 fire in downtown Olympia, and in freezing weather at that.

You can see this image and many others in the Olympia Fire Department Photograph Collection, 1885-1980.

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