In the Library, we get many requests for information about historic fires. Recently we were asked to research the 1916 conflagration at Paris, Texas.
Paris, Texas is located about 100 miles north east of Dallas. In 1916, it is estimated that the population was about 15,500. The city was a local trading center, and as such had a larger business district than other cities of similar size and population. The business district was closely built-up but the residential portions of the city were less so. However practically all the homes had shingle roofs. No rain had fallen in Paris for more than 7 weeks when the fire began.
The fire started about 5:30 pm on March 21, 1916 in a frame warehouse in a southwestern portion of the city. Fire brands were lifted by the wind, which was estimated to be blowing at 35 miles per hour, and set fire to buildings several blocks away. It is noted that in the early minutes of the fire, that occupants of buildings attempted to extinguish small roof fires with garden hoses and buckets of water to no avail, but that a few, determined in their efforts, succeeded in significantly narrowing the path of the fire. By 7:00 pm however, the fire had advanced and aid from nearby Oklahoma and Texas towns and cities was requested. By 10:00 pm the fire had spread in the business district and brands were lighting fires in the area north of the district. By 3:30 am the following day, the fire was finally under control.
The devastation was remarkable. More than 264 acres were burned. 1440 buildings were lost, resulting in the destruction of most of the business district, several churches, schools and public buildings, and more than 700 homes.
The NFPA report on the conflagration was prepared by State Fire Marshal and NFPA member S.W. Inglish. He described the fire and the devastation:
"The firemen were not able to hold the blaze to the first building being burned, for the reason that the brands carried by the high gale had set on fire buildings four, five, six and even ten blocks away and, in practically every instance, the fire started on the roof of the building. These in turn, would send their burning brands on the wings of the wind to other buildings with shingle roofs until every dwelling on both the south and east sides of the business section was a seething, roaring, mass of flames; and notwithstanding the fact that the roofs of the business buildings had refused to take fire from the burning embers that had fallen upon them like a rain of hail for some time, when the half-circle of fire around the business district had closed in, the intense heat of the wind-driven flames and the flying brands and coals which were many inches deep in the streets, broke through the windows and doors, and when once an entrance was effected, the doom of the business section was sealed." Paris, Texas Conflagration, NFPA The writer believed that had the roofs of the business district been of non-combustible material, that the Paris fire department alone could have held the blaze to the block in which it originated. He also noted that the destruction in Paris was greater in its completeness and burned area than that of the Baltimore conflagration, at least in proportion to populations.
The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA. In addition to the NFPA report which contains a map indicating the area burned in the conflagration, we have a copy of the NBFU Committee on Fire Prevention Report on the conflagration, which was the source of the images in this post. Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.