Mining towns, like most any town in the early days of the west were built of wood, canvas and native rock. Such towns were highly vulnerable to fire. The drying effects of the hot weather in Nevada mining towns in particular meant fire could strike at any moment with disastrous consequences.
Case in point, on September 23, 1871 Pioche, Nevada had a fire that resulted in a catastrophic explosion of over 300 barrels of black powder. The blast and subsequent fire was reported to have leveled much of the downtown area, which according to the city maps at the time would be roughly from the Thompson Opera House up the hill to the top of Main Street. Stones, timbers and debris from the explosion fell a quarter-of-a-mile away.
Pioche had another devastating fire in 1948. And even though they were not mining towns, most everyone knows of the famous 1871 Chicago fire and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The mountain mining town of Delamar, Nevada had a disastrous fire itself in the spring of 1900.
According to author George Goodman, “The air had been dry that year, hot and dry for several weeks. The town was like a tinder box, just waiting for a spark. Then on (Tuesday) May 22, somehow a fire began in a lean-to at the Edwards Saloon. Even though it was quickly noticed, the fire spread rapidly through the wooden structure buildings, many of which shared a common wall, or just a few feet apart. Some of the fire spread to the other side of the street as well. Delamar had no real fire department, and a few buckets of water was not going to accomplish anything. The town was doomed, and the 1,500 residents all knew it.”
The June 5 issue of the Delamar Lode newspaper reported on the fire. “No casualties, though 25 families lost their homes” was part of the headline. “The fire started in a log attachment to the Edwards saloon building about 4:30 in the afternoon.”
The report notes, “It seemed for a time that the fire could be stopped where it started, but it got away, burning the saloon and adjoining buildings to the East. In a few minutes the Schaefer Grand (Opera House) caught and was soon raised. A small building that was dragged into the street…caught and carried the fire to Mrs. Bawden’s houses, which were soon destroyed…a clean sweep was made to and including the Episcopal church of which only the stone walls of the basement remain.” The fire swept further along the main street, devouring everything, sparing nothing.
The paper reported the dwellings of Schaefer, Wertheimer, Dr. Jennsson, the Nesbitts, Martin, Newman and Edwards were destroyed. Some businesses were emptied of as much merchandise as could be, before the flames reached their location.
Goodman writes, “By suppertime, the whole area was a rolling sea of flame, smoke and burning embers.”
The Lode reported, “Ben Sanders’ law office was pulled to pieces but fire passed to Bert Dooley’s store, which was broken into and many of the goods carried out… Dr. Jennsson lost all of his furniture and most of his wearing apparel, $300 worth of drugs and medicines which went up in smoke with his residence and office.”
The Lode also commented, “the loss of the Grand Opera House will leave a great void to Delamar, and it is not likely to be replaced at an early day…the amusement lovers of the camp will greatly miss the fine hall.”
Some men hastily blew up buildings further down the street and started backfires which eventually brought the raging inferno to a standstill. The same tactic would be later used by the Army in the San Francisco fire. But like in that city by the bay, it would be several days before the fires would be out enough to begin the process of rebuilding.
And the citizens of Delamar did just that, rebuild as soon as possible. However, the fate of the town was pretty much sealed, and it was never fully rebuilt. In 1902, Capt. Delamar sold his mining interests and moved on.
Still, the new owners were able to keep the mines producing well for about another 10 years, allowing Delamar to continue to rank as the third largest producer of gold ore in the state, often handling about 400 tons of ore per day and processing overall, about $13.5 million.