Thursday, July 9, 2009


What is it with firefighters and fire, anyway? In comments to yesterday's post, you will find referenced the Australian rampaging fires of just a short while back, and the fact that at least some of them had been deliberately set by a former volunteer firefighter.

Those comments got me to thinking back and I remembered another occasion where a volunteer firefighter had deliberately set fires. Why? There wasn't enough fire-fighting business to suit him that he had to create more? Did he have a personal grudge against Mickey Gilley?

Yes, you read the name correctly. It was Gilley's, of Urban Cowboy fame, that was 'torched' in the late 1980's. Although Wiki has a pretty good writeup about Gilley's, it only mentions one arson fire. As I recall, there were two, but it was only after the second one that the culprit was discovered and apprehended!

And then I got to thinking about other strange incidents. Wasn't there one within the past very few years - in Colorado, I think - where it was discovered that a forest ranger had deliberately set a fire that got out of control? A woman, as I recall. Anyone remember that one? It was a shocker!

Fires hold kind of a morbid fascination for us all, in one way or another, don't they? In the little town of Munising, Michigan, where I grew up, there was a Beach Inn - at least, I think that was its name! ... a grand-looking* (from my memory banks) 3*** or 5***** hotel - whatever the highest rating was at the time - that sat perhaps 200' back from the Munising Bay waterfront. Once a week a cruise ship would come up to the dock and passengers would disembark to partake of lunch at the hotel and perhaps purchase a trinket or two.

But then, one year, the unthinkable happened. The Beach Inn caught fire and, despite the best efforts of volunteer firefighters from miles around, burned to the ground. I don't remember hearing anything about a suspected arson. There probably wasn't one. This would have been in the late 1940's or early 1950's.

I stood nearby, along with hundreds of other townspeople - tears streaming down our cheeks, staring at the blazing inferno. We were witnessing a vital part of Munising's history just disintegrating into ash-filled debris before our very eyes. The hotel was never rebuilt and cruise ships stopped coming into the bay. Sad.

Probably the most bizarre recollections I have of arson-related fires are those from the Keweenaw Peninsula, where my husband and I lived in 1959 and 1960. I've written a few posts about that area. Your best reference would be this one, which includes just a great link (click on "Portage Lake" in the second paragraph) to a map of that part of the world.

There had been a number of fires, all either arson-related or arson-suspected, within the past several years to historically-significant buildings - the latest of which had been the deliberate torching of the opera house in Calumet. (If you look at the map, you will see that Calumet is a little farther up the Keweenaw from Houghton/Hancock.)

Most people, unless they're from the far north, have heard very little and know even less about that part of our country. (I knew absolutely nothing about the Gulf Coast, for example, until I moved here in the early 1970's. But that's the way of it, isn't it?) That part of our country, known a century ago as "boom copperland", was a thriving and most noteworthy area. The opera house in Calumet was one of only three normally-scheduled stops in this country for famous singers - among them were Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind ... the other two cities were New York and San Francisco.

And so, the torching of the opera house was just about the last straw for local citizenry. We were all up in arms! A massive investigation ensued and the culprits were discovered.

Who were they? They were kids! Twelve to fourteen years old - something like that. In order to become a member of the "gang", you had to burn down a famous or important building. Made us all sick just to think of such a possibility, but there it was and - worse yet - it was true!

*Grand-looking ... I've been looking back through hundreds of photographs, trying to find a good one of this hotel as it actually was. If/when I find one, I will amend this post and include it.


Craig Peihopa said...

Certainly another interesting post Goldenrod. I have never understood the strange fascination that fire holds for a lot of people.

Chuck said...

In 2003, I did a volunteer trail project in Arizona's Apache-Sitgreaves Natl Forest. Over 700,000 acres had burned months before, and that fire had been set by a forest service worker (not a ranger as I recall) who became lost and set it to summon help! We also got to visit a working fire tower as part of our reward for volunteering. That was very interesting.

Goldenrod said...

2003? Arizona? I don't think it was that long ago nor do I think it was that far south, Chuck, but you might be correct on this one. Also, the story of the "worker" who was 'lost' doesn't quite fit in with my memory banks, either, but ... ... ... I'm more than a little disgruntled and distracted right now by the fact that my cell phone is all screwed up. I can't receive calls. I cannot call out. It's fully charged. I wonder what would happen if I doused the ****** thing with lighter fluid and then lit a match right next to it? (Except I'd have to be very careful not to do so in Australia or in a very dry area.) Sometimes it takes the SMALLest things to discombobulate one, doesn't it? Right now, I'm discombobulated as all get out! :(

steven said...

a fascinating post about something that each of us has dealt with at some point either through arms-length television or newspaper reporting of someone deliberately torching a region or through the more direct and emotional experiencing you describe with the burning of the hotel. there are so many stories involving volunteer firefighters (who count among the bravest people out there) looking for some sort of glory or association with a big fire. it makes you wonder. steven

Goldenrod said...

Craig, have you ever sat around a campfire staring - almost mesmerized - into the flames? I have! Have you ever roasted marshmallows on a stick over an open flame? I have! Have you ever sat near (or slept by) a fireplace that was crackling? I have!

There definitely IS a fascination with fire, and has been - I guess - ever since the cave man discovered that he could make a spark.

But uncontrollable wild fires (such as those in California that seem to appear every year in one area or another) or deliberately-set fires? There the fascination quickly ends for me and turns to "I'd rather not look at or hear any more about it". Not much doubt that I'm taking the coward's way out here.

Chuck, on the other hand, has spent many years trail-blazing and assisting others in trying to recapture and then maintain our country's natural beauty. He has story after story after story on his various blog sites about the many parks he has visited - some over and over again, and has my admiration for his continued love for and dedication to being an integral part of the efforts to preserve our planet.

Steven, I drove a taxicab for many years. One of the gas stations I frequently stopped at, just before going to Hobby AP to get signed in and then wait for my turn to pick up a customer, was almost right next to Houston's primary fire-fighting training facility. Over the years, I came to know some of the firefighters.

They're just regular people, Steven, exCEPT they have an extraordinary amount of courage. My daughter seems to think that some might have become firefighters because they are 'drawn' to fire. I suppose that might be true in some instances. In others, perhaps they had such an abhorrence of fire's potentially devastating effects that they felt bound to dedicate their lives to fighting it!

It really doesn't matter what the answer is, or what the statistics are, actually. All I know for certain is that if I call 9-1-1 and scream "Fire!", some very brave men are going to come running just as fast as they can to my rescue.

One or two bad apples do not have to make the whole batch of cider rotten. We just throw them out and keep the good ones - and there are a lot of 'keepable' good ones out there!