Fire devastates downtown Ephrata on March 13, 1910.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 1/30/2010
  • Essay 9287

On March 13, 1910, a fire breaks out in Ephrata's Club Café and strong winds carry the flames throughout Ephrata's business district, including the Ephrata Hotel. Fire engines from nearby towns finally get the blaze extinguished, but nearly the entire main downtown section is destroyed. The Columbia Basin town of Ephrata was platted in 1900 and incorporated in 1909. It is the county seat of Grant County.

A March gale was blowing at 35 miles an hour when the fire broke out in the Club Café. The town, with a population of only 323 at the time, did not have sufficient firefighting apparatus or manpower to fight such a massive fire. The café walls fell in and flames jumped to the neighboring Ephrata Hotel. This was a brick structure, yet it too soon collapsed in the inferno.

"Like a prairie fire, the flames swept over the town, mowing down buildings as if timber," said a news report the next day. "Flames shot 100 feet into the air, sparks being thrown over the entire town" ("Wild Race").

In an attempt to stop the spread, an Ephrata poolroom was dynamited with 500 pounds of powder. Soon, firefighters and apparatus from the nearby towns of Quincy and Wilson Creek arrived. The Wilson Creek men made it on a special train, which made the trip in a record 40 minutes.

A total of 300 people were now fighting the blaze. They finally got the blaze extinguished, but not before most of the business district was in ruins. The loss was estimated at $120,000, a staggering sum at the time for a town that size.

Virtually, the entire business district on A Street was leveled. The insurance coverage totaled about $50,000. It didn't take long for Ephrata to rebuild its business district, this time on B Street.

According to local lore, some citizens took solace the evening of the fire after they remembered that there was still whiskey stored in the cellar of a destroyed saloon. "The townspeople turned an otherwise sad time into a big party," according to a 1976 reminiscence (Wanamaker). 

Sources: "County Seat Town Formerly Favorite Indian Camp," Grant County Journal, September 6, 1946; "Wild Race to Save Burning Ephrata," Spokesman-Review, March 14, 1910,p. 1; Ralph Wanamaker, "Ephrata Defies Odds," Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 6, 1976, p. 3;

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