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Virginia City, NV Fire, Oct 1875


SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 26. - Virginia City, Nevada, was visisted by a terribly destructive fire to-day, and in a few hours was nearly destroyed. The fire broke out about daylight in a dwelling on A street, near Taylor, a point in the southwestern limit of the business and thickly-settled portion of the City. It spread rapidly, extending eastward toward the ravine in which are situated works and mills and several prominent mines, and reaching as far as F street northward, the flames crossed Union and Sutton streets, covering a space of about ten blocks, comprising, in the words of one dispatch, "almost every decent building in the town." As the fire worked up C street the offices of the Territorial Enterprise and Chronicle were destroyed. Piper's Opera-house was the next in flames, and it became evident that the railroad depot and the hoisting works of the Consolidated Virginia were in danger. The water supply was inadequate and the engines of little use, so recourse was had to blowing up buildings. It was too late, however, and in a few minutes the depot and the hoisting works were in flames. The latter were recently completed at an expense of several hundred thousand dollars, and were the finest on the Comstock Lode. Continuing to the north and east, the partially completed mill of the California Mine, and the Consolidated Virginia mill were soon enveloped in the flames, which spread still further north to the Ophir hoisting works, destroying them also, which is about the limit of the destruction in that direction, the fire dying out for want of fuel. From Taylor street, near where the fire originated, it spread southward against the wind, destroying the branch office of the Bank of California, Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Express Office, and everything else in its line. At this point the Gould & Curry works were in imminent danger, but were fortunately saved.

In short, nearly the entire business portion of the town is in ashes - hotels, churches, county buildings, newspaper, telegraph, and express offices all swept away. Over 10,000 persons are made homeless. The wind is piercing, and much suffering is anticipated before temporary shelter can be prepared.

It is impossible to conjecture at present the amount of loss. The destruction of the mills and hoisting works above referred to will probably entail a loss of $1,000,000 within a radius of a few hundred feet. Fortunately the shafts of both Ophir and Consolidated Virginia were bulkheaded and the fire was kept out of the mines. Ophir men say that possibly their loss may be less than at first supposed, as the building was of light frame, and may have been burned without destroying the machinery. The loss on the buildings and merchandise in the city must be very great, although covered to a great extent by insurance. It is not known to what extent the mills and hoisting works were insured, except in the case of the Ophir, where the loss is placed at from $150,000 to $200,000, with an insurance of $60,000.

In this city the news created by the greatest excitement, owing to the contradictory nature of the private dispatches received. California street was full of wild rumors, and the telegraph and newspaper offices were besieged with people anxiously seeking intelligence. As might have been expected, stocks at once felt the effect of the disaster. When the board opened by the call of Ophir there was a tremendous rush, that stock selling as low as 38 1/2. Consolidated Virginia dropped to 210, but subsequently rallied. The talk on the street was very gloomy. At first it was supposed that the disaster would entail a necessary stoppage of all work on the bonanza mines, and that the recently reported breaking in of the water would flood the mines and general panic and depression ensue. This, however, soon gave way to a better feeling. It was soon ascertained that the Gould & Curry works were all right, as were also the works of the Savage. This was considered the key to the position as far as the stock market was concerned, as the bonanza can and will be worked through the Gould & Curry shaft while the works of the Consolidated Virginia are being rebuilt, and the Savage and Gould & Curry pumps are available to free the mines from water. It was also learned that the new hoisting works on the Consolidated Virginia and California mines, known as the C & C works, were unharmed. Inquiry also elicited the fact that the insurance companies, though many of them suffer heavily, will come up manfully and pay all demands. A large portion of the insurance is in foreign companies who are well able to bear the losses. The local companies claim that none of them will go under. It is given out by those known to be insiders that the Consolidated Virginia would pay a dividend as usual, although at reduced figures probably. These considerations soon had the effect to turn the tide of feeling, and now the general impression is that, while the conflagration is unquestionably a serious disaster, its effects on the financial interests of California will be but limited and temporary. On the streets afterward stocks rallied, and the feeling in business circles is greatly improved.

The agent of Wells, Fargo & Co. at Virginia City has telegraphed for aid for the people of Virginia City rendered homeless and destitute by the conflagration. A circular has been telegraphed by Wells, Fargo, & Co., of this city, to their agents of the principal houses on the coast directing them to send contributions of food, clothing, and other necessaries to the Virginia City agent free of charge. The agent of Wells, Fargo & Co. here has telegraphed $1000 to the Virginia City sufferers on the firm's account. The San Francisco Board of Brokers, at the close of their afternoon session, held a business meeting, and $6,000 was subscribed in a moment for Virginia City, which will be transferred by telegraph. The Pacific Stock Exchange will take action in the action tomorrow. But few details of the fire have been received in addition to what has previously been reported.

The amount of insurance in the burned district has not been ascertained, but it is supposed to aggregate in the neighborhood of $1,000,000. No reports of the losses have yet been received by the insurance agents, and it is impossible to stake the proportion of the losses to the risks.

A rough estimate places the total loss at $2,000,000. No loss of life is yet reported. The great number of people reported turned out of doors by the fire stated at 10,000 is accounted for by the fact that owing to the peculiar mode of life led by the large population engaged by the mines, who work by shifts day and night. In many instances the same lodgings are occupied at different hours by numerous tenants, and at no time are the household accomodations equal to the demand of the population. Nearly all the lodging and dwelling houses occupied by the miners were in the track of the conflagration in its north-easterly course, being in the immediate neighborhood of the Mining works. The fire has now burned out, and all danger is at end.

The New York Times, New York, NY 27 Oct 1875


Virginia City was visited with a calamity which came very near reducing him to absolute want. That beautiful city, which stood almost in the clouds, near the summit of Mount Davidson, the pride of the Nevadian and glory of the miner, in the month of November [sic], 1875, was visited by a fire which destroyed buildings and property to the value of millions of dollars. The origin of this fire resembled in some respect the great fire in Chicago. In the latter case the fire was the result of a kick of that famed cow belonging to an humble washwoman named O'Leary, while in the former case it originated about 6:30 o'clock A. M., in a little shanty on A-street, from the upsetting of a burning lamp. The Fire Department responded promptly to the call, but that Washoe zephyr which was prevailing at the time soon wafted the flames to the adjoining small tenements, they being constructed of very inflammable material. The supply of water becoming exhausted, and the fire getting beyond the control of the department, the citizens commenced to prepare for the worst. Every means of conveyance was brought into use to remove goods, furniture, baggage, and valuables to safe places. The most extravagant prices were demanded by expressmen for the use of their wagons. As high as $50 and $100 an hour was paid in some instances for their use. By 7 o'clock it was evident that all that portion of the city lying north of Taylor-street was doomed to destruction. The wind was blowing a hurricane, the roaring of which, combined with the crackling of the flames, the explosions in the building, and the falling of the walls was a scene which no change or circumstances will ever be able to efface from the recollection of the Comstockers.

The flames in their curel career had crossed to C-street. The Territorial Enterprise Building and International Hotel were in flames and it was evident the Consolidated Virginia, Ophir, and possibly the California Hoisting Works would soon fall victims. The utmost consternation and dismay prevailed. If the shafts of those mines should catch fire and burn the loss would be irreparable. But during all this exciting scene two men, James G. Fair and John W. Mackay, retained their equilibrium. Mackey had anticipated an emergency of this character by placing 20 feet below the surface in the Consolidated Virginia shaft two heavy iron doors, these he closed and filled with earth to the top and with his forces directed his attention to saving the magnificent works of the California, which were just being completed. Never did men work with such a vim in trying to save property, and their efforts were crowned with success, and each one who had assisted was suitably rewarded afterward. The Ophir was not so fortunate with its shaft, it caught fire and burned for some distance and required one steam engine nearly 24 hours before it was extinguished. Happily no very serious damage was done to it. The fire raged with unabated fury until noon. During its progress a large number of buildings were blown up with giant powder by the Chief of Police to stay its advance. Finally it was checked by the application of loose dirt on a building which had been blown down. The loss of relics pertaining to the early days of the famous State, owned by the Society of Pioneers, was great, for most of them could not be replaced for love or money. One of the most serious losses was that of the private cabinets, which contained specimens of rare beauty and as great richness as were ever extracted from the bosom of the earth or found by the lucky prospector. These all disappeared in the conflagration, and where the magnificent cases once stood in which they were exposed to view nothing could be found but a few blackened nuggets.

The New York Times, New York, NY 9 Nov 1885

article | by Dr. Radut