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Fire!

In this 1935 image, just three firemen are trying to save the Odd Fellows Lodge in downtown Olympia. As if that weren't bad enough, they're doing it in freezing weather. Look at the ice forming on the power lines! Source: Olympia Fire Department Photograph Collection, 1885-1980.

Some of Washington State's most prosperous cities were at some time in the past nearly destroyed by fire. In 1887, a fire reduced half of the City of Walla Walla to ash. In 1889 alone, Seattle, Spokane, and Ellensburg experienced conflagrations so devastating that they changed the cities' developmental trajectories. The problem was that most residential and commercial structures were wood-framed, possibly with stone or brick cladding, a combination that wasn't particularly fire retardant. Also, nineteenth century firefighters' training and equipment fell far below modern tactics and standards, which made it much harder to extinguish a fire before the structure was lost. This startling photo shows just three brave firemen fighting to save the Odd Fellow's Lodge in downtown Olympia, and in freezing weather at that.

You can see this image and many others in the Olympia Fire Department Photograph Collection, 1885-1980.

Written by Frank Oesterheld