In one of the most spectacular fires ever known in this community, the Burgner-Bowman-Matthews Lumber company was totally destroyed Saturday shortly after the noon hour. Within an hour after the alarm had been given at 12:20, the company’s office, lumber sheds, all equipment and stock had been reduced to smoldering ruins.
Although the exact cause of the fire has not been determined, C.E. Streeter, manager, stated that the blaze evidently started in the main lumber shed, west of the office building. The company’s power saw was in the north end of the lumber shed and it is thought that defective wiring in or near the saw may have set off the blaze. However, there is no way of establishing this fact.
Those who witnessed the starting of the fire reported a sudden huge cloud of smoke billowing up in the north end of the lumber yard, directly west of the office structure. Within a matter of seconds, great tongues of flame were shooting toward the sky and the sheds and office building were a roaring mass of fire.
The city’s volunteer fire department responded promptly, in fact the fire truck was out of the city hall and across the street to the fire hydrant before the siren had been sounded. But the fire was simply beyond control and the firemen expended their efforts on saving adjoining property.
Fanned by a 40 mph northwest wind, the flames created a raging inferno, the terrific heat making it impossible for firemen to approach very near. At times, the flames threatened to leap across the city’s main street but once again Lincoln’s wide thoroughfare proved its worth.
Volunteer fire fighters were kept busy at the Sinclair Service station, directly south of the B-B-M lumber yard and at the Leidigh and Havens lumber yard back of the Sinclair station. Numerous small fires were started at these two places as the strong wind set down blazing embers in the lumber yard or blew them under the closed doors at the service station. An estimate of 15 or more fires were put out at each of these two places. A bucket brigade was formed and garden hoses added further protection along with wet sacks as the volunteers watched for the falling sparks. Shingles, posts, slat cribbling and a lumber shed at the Leidigh and Havens yard were endangered at various times but prompt work prevented any loss.
Small fires were started, too, in the grass surrounding the Nelson Produce station, east of the Leidigh and Havens office, and at the Hobbs residence west of the school building, two blocks south of the Burgner-Bowman Matthews yard, where a chicken house was threatened. Residents in the 200 and 300 blocks of South Fifth street were kept alert as the burning embers were blown in their direction.
It is reported that the smoke and flame from the fire was visible as far as 10 miles from town.
So far no exact estimate on the lumber company’s loss can give given although officials in the main office in Kansas City stated the loss would be at least $20,000. Buildings and stock were insured but officials stated it would not be sufficient for replacement. Company officials and insurance adjustors spent Tuesday here with Mr. Streeter, going over the debris. Practically nothing can be salvaged.
Fortunately the company’s safe in the office building did not burn and many valuable records were thereby saved.
The Burgner-Bowman- Matthews lumber yard is one of the oldest business establishments in Lincoln, though the name and ownership has changed several times.
First known as the Chicago Lumber and Coal Company, the company opened their office here at about the time the Union Pacific began laying track through Lincoln county in 1885 or 1886. The late J.D. Brockett was the company’s first manager and remained in that capacity for 50 years. He was succeeded as manager by his son, J.C. Brockett, now of Denver, who was manager five years. C.E. Streeter, the present manager, has been here approximately ten years making only three managers in a period of 65 years.
The company’s first yard was on the present location of the Sinclair Service station. In 1905 the Chicago Lumber and Coal company acquired the half block at the corner of Fifth and Lincoln Ave. and began construction of the buildings which were destroyed in Saturday’s fire. The name Chicago Lumber and Coal Company was retained until 1920 when it became known as the C.E. Matthews Lumber Company. Three years later, in 1923, Matthews consolidated with the Burgner-Bowman Lumber company, which had bought out the Home Lumber company here in 1913, owning the lot directly north of the present library building.
Those who watched the fire Saturday gave high praise to the city’s firemen and their equipment. The Salina fire department started with some of their equipment in an effort to be of help but had hard luck between Tescott and Shady Bend, blowing out three tires and making it impossible for them to continue the trip to Lincoln.
Representatives of the B-B-M Lumber company here Tuesday afternoon stated the yard here would be rebuilt. Temporary offices have been opened in the building north of the Soeony Vacuum service station.