52 Ancestors Week 15: Fire

+11 votes

Time for the next 52 Ancestors challenge...

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.8m points)
I don’t have any old ancestor stories but quite a few years back we had a garage fire. Burned up everything including my husband ragtop mustang.  My son and his friend had just unfroze the engine. He was in jr high then.

One thing that they were able to get out was a Xmas gift for my dad. He did a lot of wood working and he needed a huge shop vac for the dust collector. He said every time he fired it up it smelt like a campfire.

35 Answers

+12 votes

In 52  Ancestors Week 9: Disaster, I shared the story about my great grandparents home burning in a 1901 fire. After the fire my great grandmother, Clara McCleery, had lost all her possessions except her watch and the clothes she was wearing. Clara's cousin felt so sorry for her that she gave her this 1845 Pennsylvania signature quilt that had belonged to her mother, Adaline McIntire, dated with names of her family and friends. It has actually been a good source of research for me.


by Alexis Nelson G2G6 Pilot (444k points)
+12 votes
In the winter of 1958-59 I was living with my grandmother, Oma M Allison-Rammel (1895-1995).

The family had a home in Assumption, Christian, Illinois.  Several generations had live there.  It was commonly called "The Family Home".

As was true with many houses in those days, there was a basement with a coal furnace in the basement.  There were loads of corn cobs stacked in the basement.  They were used to start the coal burning.

I woke up one night about mid-night and could smell smoke.  I could see it coming up through the one grate in the floor were the heat came upstairs to heat the house.  I looked downstairs and saw that somehow the corn cobs were blazing.

I called the small town volunteer fire department.  They came as quick as they could, but it seemed like it was forever.

I got my grandmother up and out of the house in her nightgown.  She first went to a neighbors while the fire was being put out.  But came back with some of the neighbors clothes on to try and save things from the house.

It was about zero degrees.  But a few of the neighbors came and helped take some of the family belongings out of the house.  I recall one young man whose hands looked like they were frozen, but he kept working.

The house was saved.  However, there was quite a lot of damage to the floor.  And, of course, a lot of smoke and water damage.

We moved into the small hotel near the train depot for a couple of months while the house was made livable again.

Everything happened so fast that there was not time to be afraid.  But after, several of the neighbors and I talked about how dumb we were to have ventured into the burning house.  But grandma was always thankful that they save a lot of the irreplaceable family items that had sentimental value and left some of the stuff that could be replaced.
Why is this post anonymous?
Sorry,, I guess I forgot to fill-in the blank for my name ...  it is Bill Sims - Sims-2606
+9 votes
Several years ago a small grease fire was caused by a few drops of water falling into a skillet of hot grease. It was taken care of by covering it with a lid and it went away.
by Jennifer Robins G2G6 Pilot (109k points)
+11 votes

GG Uncle Waldo at age 5 was playing with matches one April afternoon in 1896 and accidentally started a fire that burned down not only the house his family was renting, but a neighboring house and damaged about four others. Fortunately, no lives were lost in the blaze; although the woman who rescued Uncle Waldo from under the porch where he was playing did suffer burns to her arm and face.

by Dorothy O'Hare G2G6 Mach 5 (55.1k points)
+9 votes

My 3Ggrandfather, Moses Adams, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Adams-4796 , moved from Croydon NH sometime after 1822 to the town of Peru, Vermont.  There he had sisters and brothers in law, already in the town, so I believe he came with his young family to farm in a place with relatives nearby.  He bought a piece of land to farm which was called "The Pinnacle".   It was the kind of place that once winter came, you didn't get off the mountain until spring.   These were the days of hill farms in Vermont.  Do you think a place with a name like that would be good farming?  Right.  Two generations later, My Ggf, Almon Adams, was still farming that land.  He had a reputation as a good farmer, and sugarer, and must have been to make a living there. The story that came down to us was from my grandfather, who realized one day, while he was stripping hemlock bark as a teen, that this wasn't what he wanted to do.  He left the farm, and made a life for himself on the railroad, off the mountain.  But there came a day about 1900 when the farmhouse burned.  They were insured for fire.  Did Almon rebuild?  Heck no!  He took the insurance money and moved down to Manchester Depot, where he and Lovina bought a nice little farm on flat land, where he could be close to his boys.  Peru was always home, but from the stories I heard, Almon was pretty glad in his later years not to be up on the mountain all winter.  Where they lived is now very close to Bromley Mountain, where people ski.   Thanks to the fire, Almon and Lovina got to retire to town.  So sometimes, a fire can be a good thing.

by Carolyn Adams G2G6 Mach 7 (75.8k points)
edited by Carolyn Adams
+10 votes

I'm not too thrilled about answering this weeks question. All fires that I have uncovered in my tree brings sadness. An especially gruesome instance concerns a fire that took the life of great uncle Walter Johnston's wife Elsie Mossop Johnston age 30, and their unborn child. (the news article is on her profile) 

Then there was Roy Johnston, son of riverboat captain Alexander "Rube" Johnston. Roy was a senior at University of California, and died in an explosion and fire aboard his fathers tugboat. 

No more please.

by Lyn Sara Gulbransen G2G6 Mach 4 (43.1k points)
+11 votes

I agree with Lyn Sarah Gulbrandsen.  This is a very sad subject.  Here is a third cousin once removed of mine, a child who died in a Christmas tree fire at the age of three.

Edit:  I should have mentioned that his name was Glen Littleton and he lived in Adams County, Illinois, the home of a large number of my Cecil ancestors and relatives.  He died the day before Christmas 1903.

by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (456k points)
edited by Julie Kelts
So sad, what a cutie he was.
Julie, thank you for sharing your very dear photo, so very tragic that he died at age three.
+8 votes

According to Sandra Sutphin Olney's Passengers on the "Lion" from England to Boston 1632 and Five Generations of their DescendantsJohn Benjamin's "Mansion unsurpassed in elegance and comfort by all in the vicinity" (in the words of Gov. Winthrop) caught fire, which caused terrible damage to the home.  John and his family were, thankfully, unharmed by this 1636 fire.

by K. Anonymous G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
+11 votes
June 1902, near Hazlehurst MS, my great-grandaunt Mary McFatter Westrope suffered a psychotic break and killed her five eldest children in the barn. She then set fire to her house, killing her infant daughter, Nellie.

When she was captured, she initially did not know what she had done and was reportedly devastated. Her husband took her to an asylum in Natchez MS, then took her to a hotel in Greenville, MS. On September 8, 1902, Mary escaped from their hotel and drowned herself in the Mississippi River. When questioned as to why she killed her children, Mary said she had become overwhelmed with fears that her children would be orphaned (even though both she and her husband were still alive) and thus be mistreated, so she killed them to spare them this fate.

I had a horrible thought develop recently. Mary's sister-in-law was my great-grandmother, Allie Tanksley. Allie's own mother was orphaned young and raised by an aunt and uncle. I wonder if she had suffered some kind of abuse or neglect, which she had told her daughter Allie about and Allie shared with her sister-in-law Mary. This might have formed the basis for Mary's obsessive, irrational fear that led to her psychosis.
by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (206k points)
+9 votes
This is the first 52 Ancestors question to stump me. I had a fire in my house a few years ago, but I know of no ancestors who had any issues or association with fire. I looked up 190 synonyms of "fire" thinking one might match a family surname, but no luck. My dad was briefly a volunteer fireman in my hometown until he discovered that most of the other firemen were mostly thrill seekers and show offs. That's all I got. Finis.
by Bill Vincent G2G6 Pilot (143k points)
edited by Bill Vincent
+10 votes

My maternal grandfather, Jesse Maynard, lost many children during his lifetime.  However, on one night back in 1978 he lost both his wife and a son in a house fire.  As I mentioned, he suffered many losses during his lifetime and I guess it was his faith that brought him through it.

by Anonymous Williams G2G6 Mach 5 (59.3k points)
+8 votes

There was something we called a "chimney place" in my grandmothers' home. It looked like a chimney in almost every way. There was a mantel where Christmas stockings hung in December, and a space for logs to burn. But nary a flame ever crackled there. Grandma Margie and Grandma Anna were determined their house would be safe. The cast iron log holder was full of fake logs. To start a fire all you had to do was flick an electric switch and an orangy light bulb would cast shadows the shape of flames. 


by C Ryder G2G6 Mach 8 (81.9k points)
+8 votes

My 4th cousin once removed Mattie Ralston Smith https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ralston-1268. Her husband hanged himself in 1932. In 1949 her dress caught fire from a kitchen burner and she died of her injuries. 

by Joelle Colville-Hanson G2G6 Pilot (120k points)
+7 votes
I don't have anyone that has been directly related to fire in any way that I know of. I do however have many who cut down trees for use in wood stoves.
by Christine Preston G2G6 Mach 4 (44.1k points)
+7 votes

We didn't start the fire. It was always burning as the world's been turning: https://allroadhaverhill.blogspot.com/2020/04/52-ancestors-week-15-fire.html

by Chris Ferraiolo G2G6 Pilot (466k points)
+9 votes
When my dad was little his aunt lived with the family. She would pay him a nickel to get coal from the basement and stoke a fire so she could take a bath in the morning, and that nickel could buy a lot of candy. He said there were times during the winter when people got so desperate they would try to steal coal off of the delivery truck, while others would send their kids to walk the railroad tracks and pick up what fell off the coal cars.
by Eileen Bradley G2G6 Mach 2 (25.4k points)

Newspaper report on the death of my paternal grandfather, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Jones-74497 11 Dec 1963



An eighty five year old Anglesey man, his two dogs and a cat were burned to death in a fire which completely gutted his home on Wednesday. He was William Jones of Penrhyn, Church Bay, near Holyhead, a bedridden invalid. His middle aged housekeeper, Miss Catherine Owen, ran bare footed in her night clothes three quarters of a mile to the nearest telephone kiosk to raise the alarm, and back again, only to find the house a blazing inferno. When the first batch of firemen arrived she was hysterical in the farmyard and eventually collapsed from shock and severe exposure. She was revived after ten minutes by heart massage. With her were Constable Robert Wyn Jones, of Llanfaethlu; Deputy Chief Fire Officer W J Coates; Leading Fireman R Jones and Fireman J H Roberts, all of Holyhead. They also managed to free two cows and some calves which were in an adjoining building. LIKE BIG BONFIRE Two appliances were turned out from Holyhead, but Mr Coates and his men went on ahead by car, knowing of the isolated nature of the smallholding. They had to make their way across a quarter of a mile of fields and two streams from the roadway. Firemen made four vain attempts to enter the mass of flames. A few minutes after their arrival the roof crashed down, sending up showers of sparks and smoke.

I never met the man, neither had my mother; he separated from his wife in the 1930’s

Apologies, should be an answer rather than a comment.
Interesting that they name the firemen involved.  They should do that here too.
+9 votes

My great-grandfather grew up in the pioneer edge of North Dakota in the late 1800's.  They raised sheep, 30 miles from town, and occasionally had to fight a prairie fire to save their hay.  Here's one story (more are here):

One prairie fire that came by our place one noon I remember quite well as there was only my brother and myself at home to fight it. We put barrels in the wagon with water and rags to fight with and my brother's wife drove the team. We fought this fire all that afternoon in this manner until in the evening two of our neighbors who had been away from home got there to help us. When they came my brother's wife went home to bring out something for us to eat. Then she went back again on a saddle horse. We fought this fire all that night and until afternoon the next day when we saw some men a short distance away lying under the wagon for shade. My brother went over and asked them to come and help us put out the fire, but they said they had been hired to put up hay and not to fight fire. About the time he got to where we were I saw a man coming as fast as his horse could run. When he got to where I was he said, "Where is my hay crew?" I told him where he could find them and he went on as fast as his horse could go. It was only a short time after that that this man came back and said, "My men will be here right away with a grub wagon and when they get here you boys go to the wagon and fill up. Then you can go home and we will take it from here on." That suited us fine for we were pretty well tuckered out and we heard later that these men fought that fire almost all night and then went in to the ranch where this man lived and went to bed towards morning. However they did not sleep very long as he called them before breakfast and gave them each a check for what he owed them and told them that it is only fourteen miles to Sims, so get going. "Don't we get any breakfast?" they asked, "and do we have to walk to town?" "No, you don't get any breakfast here and we won't haul you to town either. Any man that won't go and help put out a prairie fire can't work for me."

by Rob Neff G2G6 Mach 6 (60.4k points)
+9 votes

My wife is descended from a Henderson family from County Antrim, Northern Ireland. More than 20 years ago she received copies of handwritten family trees that had been researched by family members in Northern Ireland and America since the 1970s. There were researched using traditional methods - talking to family members about what they could remember, looking for family bibles and other records, visiting archives, and contacting family history societies.
Using sources which have only recently become available online we have been able to confirm most of the previous research, improve the detail, correct a few errors and fill in gaps. Most of the people in the family trees are now in WikiTree.
One of the best things about WikiTree is how profiles appear in Google searches and someone trying to research their family can easily find a WikiTree profile that might be a match.
I was recently contacted by a person researching their family who had emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the early 1900s. One of their ancestors was an Annie Henderson daughter of William Henderson from the townland of Cloghogue, County Antrim. We had a William Henderson of Cloghogue in WikiTree but we didn't know of a daughter named Annie. After exchanging several emails and doing some research about Annie and her children we were able to conclude that Annie was an unknown child of the William Henderson of Cloghogue and I could add a whole new branch of the family to WikiTree. This branch included Annie Henderson, her husband Felix O'Neill and their eight children, several of which emigrated to Canada.
Their eldest child was William O'Neill who for most of his life worked as a publican in Belfast. In 1905 William was managing a pub at 100 Hillview Street, Belfast but by 1910 he had moved across the road and was managing a different pub at 59/61 Hillview Street. I looked on a map for Hillview Street but found that the whole area was demolished in the 1980s and is now a retail and industrial area.
Looking through Belfast forums I discovered that one of the pubs was called the Bush but in the 1970s the owner decided to rename the pub as the Burning Bush. That was poor choice because the pub was petrol bombed during the Troubles and burned down.
You knew I would get to Fire eventually.smiley
by Ray Hawkes G2G6 Mach 5 (51.9k points)
+9 votes
While I have not found any incidents/accidents about fires in my family history, fire has played an integral role in my life. Growing up on the Front Range of Colorado, we relied on a wood-burning stove to heat our home. I was responsible for stocking the wood box and coal bucket before I went to bed. To my recollection, I only had to be rousted out of bed at 5:00 am once when my dad got up and found an empty coal bucket. Discipline consisted of being sent to the wood pile with a bow saw to cut firewood by hand. We went camping regularly, summer and winter, and relied on fire to cook our food and heat our water. At our summer Boy Scout Camp (Ben Delatour, near Fort Collins, CO), in order to have hot showers, we had to build a fire in a boiler to heat the water. To this day, fire is important to me.
by Gary Christopher G2G6 Mach 2 (23.2k points)
+8 votes

Since I wrote about my great-grandparents' house fire for Week 9: Disaster, I decided to take a different tack on the word fire. I wrote a blog post about the time shots were fired at the house of (another set of) my great-grandparents. This one was particularly fun for me, because I found a possible connection between a newspaper article and some recorded oral history.

by Amber Brosius G2G6 Mach 2 (22.5k points)

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