All the training in the world could not have prepared Bangor firefighters for the April 30, 1911 disaster. A “perfect storm” of events that included a relentless southerly wind and a serious spring drought tested the men’s endurance.
At first, the ringing of Box 24 on lower Broad Street around 4 p.m. seemed a minor matter. Nuisance fires were commonplace in that warren of warehouses and storage barns, and J. Frank Green’s three-story hay shed at 176 Broad St. had seen several fires since 1908. But there was something different about this call, as Green’s shed erupted into a seething caldron, reportedly ignited by idlers smoking.
“Hundreds thronged to view the spectacle of the blazing building,” wrote Michael J. Callinan in his “A True Story of the Fire,” “little dreaming that from this small bulding a conflagration, covering an area of over sixty acres, would result.”
Chief William Mason summoned every fire apparatus from the city’s seven fire stations. As horses pulled steamers and fire wagons down Broad Street, flames were spotted across the stream on Exchange Street as the telephone exchange ignited. Thus began a race against time as fire crews chased one hot spot after another. Adding to their misery was the loss of Central Fire Station on Harlow Street and Hose 1 near State and Exchange streets.
Mayor Charles Mullen telegraphed Portland, Waterville, Lewiston and Augusta, all of which sent fire companies by special trains. When the smoke cleared, the disaster had claimed two lives. John Scribner, a 70-year-old shoemaker, died as the walls of the seven-story Morse-Oliver building collapsed. And 41-year-old volunteer firefighter George Abbott perished later that night when a chimney collapsed on Penobscot Street. Both men were from Brewer.
“Every (fire)man worked as though he was saving his own home from destruction…,” wrote Callinan. “The destruction of a larger number of restaurants made it practically impossible for the men to get food but they worked none the less valiantly. …”