Dakota Datebook

Fargo’s Conflagration

Thursday, May 3, 2012


In 1874 the Headquarters Hotel was the pride and joy of Fargo. Built two years earlier by the Northern Pacific Railroad, it was touted as one of the finest hotels in the northwest. But on the morning of September 22, a fire broke out in the kitchen. Proving to be too much for the hotel staff, the building was a total loss.


The hotel was replaced within ninety days, but this was only the beginning of a series of fires that would plague Fargo for many years. Just two years later, another Fargo fire consumed twelve buildings. The loss spurred the city to not just rebuild, but double-down efforts to curtail future losses to fire.


Mayor George Egbert spearheaded the adoption of new fire ordinances, funds were raised, and by December 1877 Fargo received a shiny new hook and ladder rig. Unfortunately, when the rig was needed for a fire it was discovered a city official had taken the ladders and some of the equipment to his home and had not returned them. After yet another disastrous fire, John E. Haggart was named Fargo’s first Fire Chief on this date in 1879. He organized Fargo’s first volunteer Hook and Ladder Company, Number One Hard.


Although Fargo now had a fire department, it continued to be plagued by fires. On June 7, 1893, the temperature hit 88 degrees with a strong southerly wind. At 2:15 P.M. flames were seen shooting up from behind Herzman’s Store. In spite of early detection, a series of events delayed the response to the fire. Flames leapt from building to building. In two short hours the fire had burned a two-mile path through Fargo, and by sundown two hundred buildings, hundreds of homes and over six miles of wooden sidewalks had been destroyed.


Once again Fargo re-built, this time with no wooden buildings or sidewalks. A new fire hall, manned 24 hours per day, as well as new alarm and waterworks systems improved response times. By 1904, Fargo volunteer companies became history, replaced by full-time paid firefighters.


Dakota Datebook written by Richard Campbell


Forness, Palmer. Fire and Smoke: 100 Years of Progress. Fargo, N.D.: P. Forness, 1975.


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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