Fire devastates Cheney on April 18, 1889.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/13/2007
  • Essay 8250
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On April 18, 1889, a suspicious fire early in the morning devastates the town of Cheney, which had been in existence for only about a decade. Cheney is located about 16 miles southwest of Spokane Falls (later renamed Spokane).

No Water

A fire broke out in O. Butler's general merchandise store in the city's downtown. When the city's fire department deployed its fire hose, no water came out.

"A hasty investigation revealed the unwelcome fact that the nozzle had been plugged with a chisel handle," reported the Morning Review in Spokane. "So firmly had the obstruction been driven that some time was consumed in clearing the pipe, and by the time it was accomplished the fiery demon had gained mastery of the situation and it was found impossible to confine the flames to one building" (Morning Review).

By this time, the hose itself had split from the pressure. A bucket brigade was formed, but was not equal to the task. Throngs of helpless onlookers watched in horror as the fire jumped from building to building. When it was all over, the flames had ravaged both sides of Main Street from E Street on the west to B Street on the east and from the railroad on the south to 2nd Street on the north.

Ruin and Desolation

"When daylight dawned, there was a scene of ruin and desolation that almost beggars description," reported the Morning Review. "But a small portion of the business houses of the town remained, and everywhere was broken furniture and damaged articles which were hastily carried off in the vain hope of saving something" (Morning Review).

A total of 45 buildings were destroyed. The Morning Review estimated the damage at $150,000.

Arson was suspected since the fire appeared to have been started with some kind of incendiary device. The plugging of the fire hose was also suspected to be part of a plot by "miscreants" who "looked well ahead in laying the plans of destruction" (Morning Review).

Reconstruction commenced the next day and Cheney rebuilt quickly, with a downtown built more from brick.

Sources: "Cheney in Ashes," Spokane Morning Review, April 19, 1889.

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