The El Dorado Fire of 1923

Hill Hotel

Hill Hotel

On Monday, September 17, 1923, a fire at the California Door Company in Diamond Springs got out of control and before it was finally extinguished, it had burned over 1,000 acres of cattle grazing land and most of buildings in the town of El Dorado, two miles away.

The “Mountain Democrat,” in its Saturday, September 22, 1923 edition, provided in-depth coverage of the fire and the many who volunteered to save the town in a story titled, “El Dorado Nearly Wiped Out – many residences and business houses burned during heavy wind. Prompt aid by Placerville saves many others.”

The opening two paragraphs of the story set the stage for what was one of the worst fires in many years.

“Monday morning brought apprehension and uneasiness in Placerville because with a high wind blowing there was evidence of fires in almost every direction. There was a call for men early in he morning.

“Soon after noon the fire siren blew and the word was passed around that El Dorado was burning and needed help. Inside of half an hour every available automobile and at least a hundred men had left for El Dorado. The heat was so intense with fire on both sides of the highway near El Dorado that cars were all turned to Diamond Springs and compelled to reach El Dorado over the Springs road.

“Just out of Diamond Springs the fire was burning fiercely along the road opposite Supervisor Schroeder’s farm but men were at work preventing its spread across the road. From Diamond Springs to El Dorado between the state highway and the dirt road was a roaring furnace fanned by the highest wind known in years.

“El Dorado was an inferno and enveloped in smoke, but on every corner, in every alley, and about each building were men fighting as best they could with the implements at hand. Apparently everything was on fire.

“Every pump and well in the town was manned and every pail and tub and pan was in use to convey water and to wet sacks and coats used to smother the fires as they started. One cottage that was saved was on fire eleven times in twenty minutes and working around it and on the roof were day laborers, county officials, farmers, merchants and even newspaper men. At one time we noticed in the yard and about the Hill cottage that was saved, all working with zeal, Hugh Beason, Philip Frost, Sheriff Wood, Jim Dixon, John Tinney, Max Mierson and as many more whom we did not know. Chas. Baumgardner was one of the men on the roof of the cottage when a gable at one corner began to burn. He crawled to the burning gable, tore it loose and hurled it to the ground, but a shingle had caught fire and being without water he actually laid flat and spit out the tiny blaze and then smothered it with his hand.

“About five o’clock in the afternoon the worst was over as far as El Dorado was concerned and a survey of the situation showed that only the Hill Hotel and garage opposite, the homes of Mrs. Savilla C. Shinn, Mr. J. Williams, Fred Schance, W. J. Moore, Wm. Barbee, Thos. Davidson, Harvey White, Mrs. Lillie E. Hill and Mrs. Martha White had been saved. About thirty buildings were burned. The foundations and walls of seven brick buildings are standing.

“Among the buildings destroyed were the Masonic Temple built in 1861. When this building first caught fire Jos. Windel, assisted by Morey and others from Placerville saved the records of the lodge.

“Very little was saved from any building that burned because once started the fire was too swift and hot and anything brought from a burning building would be ablaze before it could be taken to a safe place.

“One of the heaviest losers was George Askew, proprietor of the big general store. Mr. Askew lost his home and stock of general merchandise saving only his automobile and one trunk.

“While Seymour Hill saved the Hotel Hill and the El Dorado Garage he owned several residences and the opera house and dance hall that burned.

“Ed Redemski owned two dwellings that were burned.

“Chas. E. Sackett lost his fine 6-room cottage and garage and outbuildings.

“The postoffice was located in the Askew store and everything was burned, mail, money and all records and fixtures.

“The only church in the town was burned and the fire swept the cemetery.

“The soft drink parlor of G. F. Boon, next door to the Masonic temple, was a total loss, several cases of soda pop were rescued and enjoyed by a number of small boys.

“The old Wells-Fargo building, property of A. M. Drew was a total loss.

“Several vacant store buildings and the bakery of Mrs. Roy White were burned.

“Joe Wells lost his automobile as well as his home.

“Roy Sherman, who rented of Mrs. Roy White, was burned out.

“Angelo Perri, who occupied the dwelling owned by Lucy H. Thomas, lost everything.

“The home of Postmaster Drew was a total loss.

“El Dorado is certainly a forlorn looking place and there is ruin where stood happy homes surrounded by gardens and flowers.

“The fire passed through the town and spread and swept on before the wind, and the fire fighters went to the rescue of the farmers and while buildings on the farms were saved the pastures were burned over, the range ruined and wood and fences burned.

“Among the farms that suffered were those of Supervisor W. S. Biggs, Dr. L. G. Stevenson, Mrs. Mary Davidson, H. E. Cheney, J. M. and V. W. Strickland, John Albers, Mrs. Cappleman, F. M. George, Harvey Spears, Antone Pavia, J. F. Nelson, Orrin M. Sackett, J. P. Dunlap, John Chapman, Seymour Hill, J. C. Forni, Geo. E. Miner, Stark Bros., J. E. Windle, Cantrel Bros., W. J. Stone, E. G. Jones, G. A. Carsten, C. E. Gillett an the Bartholomew ranch.

“The loss sustained is not know at this writing, in fact can not be estimated. There was little insurance.

“The depot at El Dorado was saved by the section crew and an engine and crew from Placerville.

“El Dorado was one of the oldest towns in northern California and while it had been considered a has-been for years, both mining interests and fruit growing and stock raising have been developing and attracting capital, and this year the first carload of Bartlett pears was shipped directly from El Dorado to the east.

“Undoubtedly some of the burned buildings will be replaced by modern structures but it will be some years before many business houses will be in demand.

“Everyone in El Dorado county is ready to extend the helping had to those who have had the misfortune to be burned out and the homeless on Monday were quickly cared for.

“While the fire was still burning the ladies of Placerville with Secretary Shanklin and Chairman Atwood of the city and county committee of the Chamber of Commerce were busy getting relief for those who were being made homeless and provisions were sent early in the evening. A fund was raised and everything done to make the unfortunate ones as comfortable as possible.”

If that wasn’t enough, the story ended with these two lines:

“A destructive fire also swept parts of Green Valley and at one time threatened Folsom.

“A forest fire raged between Kelsey and the Mosquito district.”

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