Prescott's Whiskey Row boasts a colorful backstory of cowboys,gamblers and barroom brawls. With Tuesday's devastating blaze, a new chapter begins. Photos |
Officials: Fire likely electrical accident Damaged were three beloved businesses located along CourthouseSquare: the Bird Cage Saloon, Pearl's Place Cafe and Prescott FoodStore on Montezuma Street. Witnesses reported flames reaching morethan two stories high.
More than 110 years ago, a similar blaze destroyed almost allstructures on the block. On Wednesday, people raised cellphone cameras, walked their dogsand talked about the damage. Bikers stood on the street andchildren walked by with ice cream while firefighters and businessowners surveyed the damage. Investigators believe the fire might have started in the back ofone of the three buildings, but are unsure which one. There is noofficial cause of what sparked the blaze.
All three businesses were total losses, according to the PrescottFire Department. One thing that was salvaged: the familiarblack-and-white sign that graced the outside of the Bird CageSaloon. No injuries were reported in the blaze but damage is expected to be"in the millions," according to Lt. Andy Reinhardt, a PrescottPolice Department spokesman.
"We always loved Whiskey Row," said Joan Gresham, who has come toPrescott for the past 30 summers and gone ballroom dancing in oneof Whiskey Row's saloons. "With all its history. It really makes mecry." Last century's fire Like this week's fire, it's hard to pinpoint what exactly startedthe fire that ran through Whiskey Row back at the turn of the lastcentury. But some facts have survived through the years.
In 1900, a miner staying at the Scopel Hotel left a candle burningwhen he left his room for a night on the town. Prescott had morethan 35 saloons then, according to records at Sharlot Hall Museum. Men played cards, drank and talked about a heat spell that hadgripped the city that July and about a drought that had ravaged thecity's water supply. It is not clear how the miner's candle ignited the blaze. Someaccounts say the candle lit a loose piece of wallpaper.
Others saya breeze moved a curtain toward the flame. The room caught fire. The hotel followed. Someone fired his gun anda bell rang from the courthouse.
The men dropped their cards and grabbed their glasses and walkedoutside. People spread the alarm, the bell kept ringing and goodswere moved out of buildings into the street. Saloon owners laidplanks across barrels to serve as makeshift bars as the firespread. Every now and then it exploded caches of gunpowder orgasoline.
It burned through a row of shacks on to Montezuma Street, then toGurley Street. It burned until it ran out of fuel. When Prescott rebuilt, it started using more brick than wood. 'The rest of the row' Jane Carlson, 61, remembers coming to Courthouse Square, just towatch cowboys on Whiskey Row.
"When I was a teenager we would come up every year on the Fourth ofJuly to see the cowboys fight," she said Wednesday, recalling howthe bouncers picked up the cowpokes by the back of their Levis andtossed them into the street. "There were always fights," Carlson said. "The cowboys had morebruises from the fights than they did from the bulls." The sound of a water pump rumbled in the background as she lookedat the empty storefronts. "This whole block could have gone up real easy," she said. Allen Thomson, a bartender at the Palace Saloon, a restaurant andbar with old-time swinging doors and old-fashioned wood finish,came down to watch the fire as soon as he saw it from the deck ofhis home, which is about five blocks away.
"It was pretty scary," he said. In the aftermath, people talked about the outlook of businessesthat burned. "I just know it's tough keeping businesses on the square," saidThomson, who moved here a couple of years ago to escape thewildfires near San Diego. "Everybody on the whole square went to the food store." Rene Vallejo was kayaking on Watson Lake when the blaze broke out.He stood outside the caution tape Wednesday and shot a photo of apassing fire truck and noted the smoky smell still lingering on thestreet as he stood downwind. "I used to go to the Cage, just like everyone else," he said.
Heknew people who worked there and knew some of the firefighters whowere on the street. "Everybody knows everybody," said Vallejo, who has lived here since1979. "It affects people you know, who work there." There is a saying, he said, that if someone dies in Prescott, youeither know the person or know someone who did. The street was fullof the noise of engines, of people talking, of the fire truckspulling away. Vallejo spotted a fireman in a pickup and called outto him.
"Thank you for everything," Vallejo said "Thank you for saving therest of the row." Republic reporters Randy Cordova, Cassondra Strande and JohnGenovese contributed to this article.
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