Though mining disasters were the largest single death-dealer to area residents during the early 1900s, fires were responsible for the loss of property and livestock.
In March 1910, a fire, which started in a saloon, wiped out the entire town of Mount Hope.
The blaze started at about 7 a.m., according to reports, and had destroyed most of the town by noon.
Two chemical fire engines from MacDonald, one from Glen Jean, and one from Kilsyth, nearby mining towns, were rushed to the scene.
Firefighting crews, meanwhile, used dynamite fire to blow up some of the buildings in the path of the roaring, wind-whipped blaze.
Some 3,000 residents were left homeless by that fire, and loss of property was valued at $500,000.
Reports said the blaze broke out in a second story of the Greek Restaurant on Main Street.
The town’s fire department, rendered helpless early in the battle because of a burned water hose, was unable to use the town’s local water supply.
As a result, the New River Coal Co. dispatched 25 teams and wagons to assist in carrying away property saved from the burning buildings.
Ninety-year-old Walter Cheek of Mill Court in Mount Hope was a 14-year-old miner with Sherwood Coal Co. at the time of the 1910 fire.
On his way home early in the day, following an accident at the mine that injured his brother, Cheek witnessed dismal clouds billowing upwards over the bustling mining community, a spectacle visible for miles, he said.
The old-timer, however, recalled something else from the famous fire.
Cheek maintained the loss of the entire town could have occurred, despite frustrated efforts to contain the blaze to a few buildings, if two things hadn’t happened.
First, he said dynamiting buildings in the fire’s path only helped spread the conflagration, blowing burning debris across streets and roadways where furniture and other possessions already were being heaped on the sidewalks.
“The dynamite threw fire all over the place,” the World War I veteran recalled. “It blew burning bales of hay into the air and set the whole town on fire.”
Second, Cheek charged that dozens of firefighters, many of whom were nightshift workers who’d been awakened by the alarms, abandoned their efforts when saloon keepers opened their doors and allowed the men to carry away free whiskey.
“Why, they (the nightshift miners) quit fighting the fire and went to carrying liquor,” Cheek lamented. “They were carrying liquor by the sack loads and hiding it in the brush, until they could crate it home.”
And though the crackling and thunder of the impetuous flames sent women shrieking and children clamoring into the streets, it was truly a sad sight for the 14-year-old miner; he said he would never forget the scene of apathy that followed the first unsuccessful efforts to halt the blaze.
“Some just stood and watched the buildings burn,” he said.
Two years later, fire losses reached $275,000 in Beckley after an April Sunday morning blaze swept through part of the city’s business district.
The fire was discovered at about 2 a.m. by a night watchman in the Rose and Turner building on the corner of Heber and Neville streets.
Though damage was extensive, the blaze left intact two hotels and three newspapers in that section of town, records show.
But fires in Raleigh and Fayette counties were tragic for other reasons, especially disastrous was the loss of livestock.
Forty-two mules were burned to death in a fire that destroyed the stables of Mabscott and Beckley coal companies in 1907.
Of the 45 animals kept in the big barn, only three escaped the blaze, but two of them had to be destroyed later because of the burns they had suffered.
Then in April 1956, seven racehorses and a barn were destroyed by fire in Oak Hill.
Located in a field, the barn housed eight mares, several of which were in foal. The lone horse saved from the flames foaled later in the day.
Two years earlier, a poultry building and a flock of 600 laying hens were destroyed in an early morning fire in December at Shady Spring.
Losses were valued at $8,000.
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