early-morning hours of July 16 1928, flames erupted from 28
N. Main St., the building which housed the Curtis Cafe and
the Maverick Pool Hall. The rapidly-spreading fire was discovered
and reported at 2:00am by Johnny Bukowitz, a printer at the
Helena Independent newspaper, who happened to be passing the
had the Helena Fire Department responded to the blaze than
a torrential hour-long rainstorm began, hampering firefighting
efforts but wetting nearby roofs, preventing an even greater
catastrophe. Roomers in the adjacent buildings fled into the
streets, where they were soon soaked to the skin by the downpour.
The storm brought with it shifting winds, which threatened
to carry embers in every direction. Frequent lightening bolts
illuminated the surreal scene.
hours time, the fire was completely out of control, and had
spread north destroying numerous businesses. It also crossed
over to the east side of Main St., damaging several buildings.
Firefighters began concentrating their efforts on saving buildings
on Sixth Avenue and the east side of Main. Shop owners and
other businessmen hurriedly carried goods, equipment and records
from threatened buildings. Explosions were heard when the
blaze touched off chemicals stored at the Budd-Fisher Drug
Co. Helena's Western Union lines were severed by the fire.
the fire was brought under control, but had destroyed several
large commercial buildings housing dozens of businesses. The
Granite, Bailey, Gold, and New York Store blocks were reduced
to rubble; the Power Block, the A. P. Curtin Block, the Pittsburgh
Block, and several other buildings were damaged.
was far beyond the power of the Helena Fire Department to
cope with; water pressure was adequate, but too few hoses
and too few men could be brought to bear.