COBWEB CORNERS: A wind-driven disaster
By Mel McFarland
Colorado Springs has long seen wind storms like the one we have had recently. Before the trees were added, dust storms blasted right through town. Colorado City, while sheltered, was far from immune. The Midland railroad and the area's mills regularly were damaged by wind and water.
One memorable Colorado Springs disaster was made even worse by wind. On October 1, 1898, a windswept fire started at the Denver and Rio Grande freight house at the foot of Cucharras Street at 2:10 p.m. There are several stories as to how the fire started, in the building, under a freight car, in the freight car, but at any rate it was unnoticed at first. Within five minutes the fire spread to nearby freight cars. A half-unloaded car of blasting powder exploded, throwing cans and burning chunks of railroad car into the nearby lumber yards. The wind was very strong out of the southwest. Firemen from Colorado City soon came to the aid of the Colorado Springs firemen.
The fire burned south of Colorado Avenue from the railroad yards to Cascade Avenue. A strip four blocks long and three blocks wide was in flames. The wide street helped keep the flames from crossing Cascade. Additional help was called for. Special trains brought men and equipment from Pueblo and Denver. (By the time they arrived the fire was almost out.) The fire destroyed three lumber yards; the D&RG freight depot; the Denver, Texas and Gulf depot; the entire DT&G railway yards in the streets along Sahwatch and Sierra Madre; a dozen or more houses; and a couple of small hotels.
The Antlers Hotel was one of the last structures to burn as the fire started to spread north. Heroic efforts were futile in saving the big wooden building. The heat was too intense. At 6 p.m. all that was left was debris. The power plant was saved, sitting only a block from the edge of the flames, but many of the distribution lines were destroyed. It looked for a time as if the entire business district would go up in flames, but the fire lines at Cascade and at the Antlers held. Cascade at Pike's Peak Avenue was filled with furniture from the Antlers that had been dragged out at the last minute!
The fire, often called only "the Antlers Fire," was much more than that. Whatever way it started, the wind made it much worse.