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The following article is a first hand account of the fire that destroyed Vancouver on June 13, 1886. It is reprinted from the Mainland Guardian of June 16, 1886. A recollection of the fire printed in the Vancouver Daily World five years later will be posted shortly.


Vancouver City Totally Destroyed by Fire
Great Loss of Life

(From our special Correspondent.)

Sunday morning at 7 o'clock the city of Vancouver was enveloped in smoke, it increased, and at 1 p.m. it hung over the doomed city like a funeral pall. The majority of citizens appeared to think a fire imminent, and some of them were out with buckets looking for water long before the first flash of fire was noticed. At ten minutes past 2 o'clock I heard an awful cry; it was loud and uttered by fifty persons in terror. Fire! Fire!! Fire!!! It brought every one who could hear into the streets and they heard a sound, and saw a sight never to be forgotten. For two or three minutes they heard the roar of that approaching torrent of fire, and then they saw it rise like a long wall high above the tall trees of the forest; and then it bounded down like a wild beast on the devoted city. I saw it strike one of the churches which disappeared in half a second; the air appeared to be impregnated with gas, and in two minutes the city was a fire. At 3 o'clock there were only two houses of the four hundred left standing. The chickens that were out in the streets feeding on grashoppers were roasted alive; and several persons shared their fate. The smell of burned flesh was horrible. On one of the principle streets at five o'clock I saw the dead body of a woman, and beside it the dead body of a child; the burned arm of the child was round the woman's neck, and the clothes on the right side of both bodies was burned to a crisp, the clothes on the side scarcely scorched. Fifty persons must have perished in the flames. Up to this time 9 dead bodies have been discovered. Hundreds went out to sea on logs, and other hundreds disappeared in the woods not knowing where to go in that blinding smoke.

About 3 o'clock I met Mr. Herring, the druggist, at False creek bridge. He says: "The people had time enough to escape, but they hesitated and delayed, hoping to save trifles. At 1/2 past 1 I left my horses, and my wife in a carriage, at Freeze's stables, and then went down to McCartney's drug store; he was then taking out his goods, and I assisted him for twenty minutes. I then heard the cry of fire! and ran. I had five or six hundred yards to go to the carriage where my wife was. We went off slowly, because the streets were obstructed by waggons [sic] and persons preparing to move. When I got to False Creek bridge I left my wife in the carriage there and returned to McCartney's. The distance between the two places is nearly a mile. McCartney's place was not then on fire. I helped him to get out more things, but the heat was terrible; in a little while I heard the crackling of the great fire coming through the wood, and I returned to False Creek. On the way back I saw a child at the window of a cabin; I stopped and gave the alarm. I said to the mother, "Come quick, the fire is coming this way, you have no time to spare," and I took the child by the hand. The woman said "Wait until I put in his boots." I told her there was no time; the fire was coming; I took the child by the hand and ran; the woman waited; I looked back, and the smoke had gathered around the cabin. I did not see her any more. I left her child with a lot of women who were gathered at False Creek bridge, they knew the woman. I do not know whether she escaped or not."

It was an awful scene. The whole population were newcomers, and did not know each other's names. Nine dead bodies have been discovered; five or six patients, dreadfully scorched, were sent into New Westminster last night.

Monday Evening, 6 o'clock

To-day I crossed over the site of Vancouver city; it is a dismal black waste in the woods; the fire eat [sic] up everything. I learn from the sufferers that everyone expected a fire, but when it came no one was prepared to go. It came like a flash, and swept the city off the face of the earth. About a thousand persons lost all their property, and must be maintained for some time by the hand of charity; about a thousand other persons lost all the property they had in the city, but they have other property in other places. It was a pitiful sight to see the dead bodies and the women with their little ones running before that terrible fire.