Fire destroys the Weiser Lumber Company in Marysville on May 6, 1955.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 7/05/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8170

On May 6, 1955, a large, fast-moving fire destroys Marysville's largest industry, the Weiser Lumber Company. It is the worst fire in Marysville's history up to that time. The cause of the fire is not identified, but it does more than $300,000 in damage, none of which is insured. No casualties are reported.  Within a year the Weiser family rebuilds a smaller mill at the same location. Today (2007) Welco Lumber Company operates a mill on the site.

The Mill And Its History

Marysville’s history is intertwined with the lumber industry. Two years after the town was platted in 1885, E. J. Anderson opened the first lumber mill, and within 20 years, the town had established itself as a significant lumber and shingle center. Meanwhile, Anderson built a second mill and sold it to J. K. Montgomery, who moved it to Front Street (later renamed 1st Street). In 1909 the John McMaster Shingle Company set up operation at the site.

John McMaster was a big player in the Marysville lumber industry. His company expanded through the 1920s, but by the late 1940s the mill on 1st Street was closed.  In September 1949 Albert Weiser (1905-1955) purchased the mill and had it up and running by the end of that year. Weiser named the mill the Weiser Lumber Company, and grew the business through the early 1950s.  The mill specialized in making cedar siding and shakes, and by the spring of 1955 Weiser had added several new structures and employed either 55 or 61 workers  (accounts vary), making it the largest industry in Marysville.

The Fire Erupts

On Friday afternoon, May 6, 1955, the weather was dry and fairly seasonal in Marysville. The temperature was in the 50s, but a strong northerly breeze added a cool edge to the air.  About 6 p.m., employee Bob McCuiston, working on a log haul, saw flames suddenly shoot out from under one of the mill’s planers.  He ran to the fire room and alerted mill fireman Ralph Creeder, who began to dial the Marysville Fire Department on the mill’s rotary phone -- but as Creeder dialed the last digit, more flames erupted from underneath the floor near the door that McCuiston had just entered, forcing the two men to race out another door to safety.

Both the Marysville and Everett fire departments responded, as well as hundreds of volunteers, but the fire was so large and moved so quickly that there was little that could be done to stop it from destroying the mill. Aided by the strong northerly winds, flames raced through the half-block-long plant, devouring the mill, two planers, two dry kilns (which had just been replaced following a smaller fire at the mill on March 29, 1955), and all the buildings on the site save for a small office and home on the south end of the property owned by Mrs. V. A. Joy.  Nearly all of the mill’s stock of cedar lumber was destroyed, with the exception of some lumber piled on the north and west sides of the building.

One Hot Fire

The Marysville Globe observed the heat from the fire was so intense that it caused iron to melt. “It was one hot fire,” confirmed Joe Reed (b. 1946), Weiser’s grandson, who witnessed the fire as an 8-year-old. “When it got dark I could see sheets of galvanized roofing floating up into the air and out of sight on the thermals [from the heat]. And our relatives in Edison [approximately 40 miles to the northwest] could see the glow from the fire” (Interview).

As flames shot 300 feet into the air, the wind picked up burning embers  and carried them south to the docks on Ebey Slough itself, to the railroad bridge  spanning Ebey Slough just southeast of the mill, and south of the slough, causing spot fires everywhere. Here the firefighters efforts were more successful. Volunteer bucket brigades put out fires on the docks and managed to save all but one boat.  Spot fires erupted repeatedly on the railroad bridge, but time and again the volunteers put out the fires, managing to save the bridge itself, although the Great Northern Railway control tower on the bridge was burned. Flying embers carried south of the slough caused a deserted farmhouse to catch fire several times, but again the volunteers sallied forth and saved the home. 

The press reported that the fire raged out of control for two to three hours, but firefighters remained on the scene all night hosing down the remaining flames. Although they were not able to save the mill, their efforts prevented the conflagration from causing even more damage to the surrounding area. (It was also fortunate that winds were from the north, because had winds been from the south, it would have carried the fire right into downtown Marysville.)  

No casualties were reported, and the cause of the fire was never identified, other than it was found to have started near one of the mill’s planers.  But as Joe Reed observed, “The mill was old and full of cedar dust. It was a combustible thing just waiting to happen” (Interview).

Afterward

Although Al Weiser had not carried insurance on the property, he still intended to rebuild.  But the week after the fire, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he died that December. His wife, Alice, and children, Evelyn and Leroy, rebuilt a smaller mill, which opened in April 1956. The mill remained in the Weiser family until 1961, when they sold it to Welco. Until 2007, the Welco Lumber Company, a manufacturer of western red cedar fence pickets, continued to operate a mill on the site.


Sources: Maude Barrett and Pat Olson, Reflections of Marysville: A Pictorial History (Marysville, WA:  City of Marysville, 1991), 29-31; “Spectacular Blaze Friday Evening Destroys Entire Weiser Mill Plant,” Marysville Globe, May 12, 1955, p. 1; “Loss Put At $250,000 In Marysville Mill Fire,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 7, 1955, p. 1; “Fire Wipes Out Marysville’s Biggest Industry,” The Seattle Times, May 7, 1955, p. 1;  Phil Dougherty interview of Joe Reed, May 29, 2007, Marysville, Washington; Phil Dougherty interview of Evelyn Weiser, May 29, 2007, Marysville, Washington; Eric Ericson, email to Phil Dougherty, May 26, 2007, in possession of Phil Dougherty, Sammamish, Washington; “Welco Manufacturing,” website accessed May 28, 2007 (http://www.welcolumberusa.com/id1.html).
This essay was updated on December 3, 2008.

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