|Elk River Potato market during better times, circa 1900. |
SHC photo collections, 1995.017.012
Fire is all too common in farming communities. Barns and haystacks catch on fire. Wood buildings routinely burn. In 1924 Elk River, however, a particularly unusual fire erupted in the potato warehouse and the Elk River Fire Chief immediately suspected arson.
Trainmen traveling through Elk River discovered a fire in the potato warehouse at 5 am on February 2, 1924. Luck followed the city and firefighters on this day. The Elk River fire siren had failed earlier in the week and continue to malfunction. The trainmen notified the telephone exchange. Telephone operators then notified firefighters by telephone. Fortunately, the fire remained small.
After the firefighters entered the warehouse, they discovered several small fires. In an hour’s time, they extinguished the fire. Inspection of the warehouse revealed two bags of bran with two fruit cans of gasoline inside the grain. The arsonist sealed the glass jars too tightly and prevented the gasoline from igniting.
The manager of the warehouse was arrested and charged with arson. Many suggested his motives included insurance fraud. Although the newspapers do not report the outcome of the investigation and trial.
After the warehouse fire, the county continued to suffer from a variety of fires. The Frye homestead in Elk River burned down. The McKinney house in Orrock burned. The homes of R. J. Johnson in Big Lake, and the home of E. D. Smith in Becker were also burned. And, the Big lake Depot also burned.
Although fires were common in the farming communities of Sherburne County, 1924 seemed particularly challenging for fire fighters.