On This Day in FFD History

March 12, 2016 Events  No comments

Thanks to our good friend and fire historian, Warren Jenkins, we have been able to identify the date and some details of this fire. Warren sent us the following Times-News article from 2004.

By James Rada, Times-News Staff Writer

A little after 5:00am in March 12 1925, Frostburg Police Officer and volunteer fireman, Thomas Griffith smelled smoke. He hurried down East Main Street trying to follow the scent of burning wood. He hadn’t gone far when he saw the flames piercing the windows of Hitchins Bothers Department Store.

The store had been in business for more than half a century and employed 45 people. The first floor carried groceries, shoes and general merchandise. The second floor had clothing for men, women and children, home furnishings and floor coverings. The third floor was the stock and supply room.

Griffith sent in the fire call, but when the Frostburg firemen arrived, it was clear they would need help. Calls for assistance went out to Cumberland, Lonaconing and Midland. As the firefighters began to battle the blaze, Griffith woke up Upton Edwards, the assistant manager of the department store. Together, they entered the store around 5:30am hoping to find the source of the fire. They got as far as the stairway to the third floor when the heat, smoke and fire drove them back.

The firefighters were having their own problems. Fire Chief Bernard Hughes and firefighter John Pritchard advanced the hose line across the floor wetting everything down. The heavy pressure from a new 4 million gallon city water reservoir kicked in; knocking both men to the floor as the water surged through the hose.
Despite being able to put water further into the building with the increased pressure, the fire spread to the entire building. The Cumberland Evening Times reported, “The flames burst from the roof, throwing burning sparks and embers high into the air.” Luckily, there was no wind, which helped in the firefighter’s efforts to save the adjoin buildings and eventually contain the flames.

Cumberland Fire Chief Reid Hoenick made the run up the mountain in 20 minutes in fire engine No. 1. Engines from Lonaconing and Midland arrived shortly thereafter. The firefighters had to work around the growing crowds that sometime blocked their access to the building despite the intense heat coming from the fire.

The newspaper reported, “Taking position on the side, front and rear, the firemen deluged the burning building from every point of vantage.” By 7:00am, the fire was under control. Despite the walls of the building collapsing, the Hafer building on the west side, the Palace Theatre on the east side and the St. Michael Church across the street were all saved.

Emory Hitchins, the manager of the store, went around and personally thanked all of the firemen for their efforts in trying to save his store. The building and its contents were listed as a total loss with the building valued at $150,000 and the stock and equipment valued at $200,000.

Faulty wiring was thought to have started the blaze sometime after midnight on March 11th because the final store inspection was made at 11:00pm by the Shoe Department Manager, Joseph Condon as he closed up the store for the night.

In a stroke of good luck, the store’s steel safe was found in the basement. It was stored on the third floor but when the fire weakened the floors enough, it fell though to cellar. The safe was opened and all of the money and documents inside were found intact. The business resumed in the Hitchins-Watts-Hitchins building and in part of the Citizen’s Bank Building, pending Hitchins building a bigger and better department store.


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