Thursday, September 5, 2019

Rickard Garage's Fire at Corvallis

The skills that Corvallis firemen demonstrated at the Labor Day competitions described in the last post were needed when the alarm sounded at 4:35 in the afternoon of September 6, 1923.  Within three minutes fire fighters arrived at the corner of  Van Buren Avenue and Second Street where Rickard's Garage was on fire.

Mark Rickard was the first in the area to sell automobiles. In 1908, he purchased the lot and opened a combination showroom, repair shop and storage garage there.  He sold  REOs, Buicks, Studebakers, and Dodges, among other brands.
Rickard's Garage, Corvallis, Oregon

On that Thursday afternoon, according to local historian Ken Munford, “a Studebaker leaking gasoline drove into the garage.  Onus Brown, a mechanic, was bringing a can to catch the drip when a spark from the machine or some other source ignited the fuel on the floor.”  The fire caused a tank of compressed air or oxygen to exploded, which quickly spread the fire throughout the building. Thick black smoke rose to the sky.
The battle then turned to keeping the fire from spreading. The photo shows firemen on the roof of the adjoining Beaver Laundry.
Beaver Laundry Co.
 People in nearby houses moved their furniture out to the street in case the fire spread to their roof.
Although the firemen arrived three minutes after the alarm sounded, they were unable to save the garage or the cars within. 

The laundry's roof sustained extensive damage but the building itself was saved.  A house at First and Monroe and a shed on the lot behind the Rickard garage were not so lucky.  Overall, the estimated damage from the fire was nearly $103,000 (or roughly $1.5 million in today's dollars).  A total of 53 cars were destroyed.    

Ken Munford, “An Explosive Past for Corvallis Cars,” Gazette Times, December 1, 2007.

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

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