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Then and Now: Spokane’s Peyton Building

There have been many terrible fires in Spokane, but the 1898 Great Eastern fire was the deadliest, a scene of horror and heroic rescues. The five-story 1889 building had stores and offices on the first two floors and apartments above, occupied by some 150 people. The fire started in the basement late on Jan. 23 and raced up the light well in the center of the building. Firefighters arrived quickly, but masses of electric wires prevented them from putting up ladders. Residents scrambled out lower-floor windows. Nettie Howland was playing with her Christmas dolls when the fire alarm sounded at 11:30 p.m. As her family headed for the stairs, she heard her father say, “Oh my God, child! I don’t think we’re going to make it!” She passed out just as she saw the figure of a fireman coming toward them. Nettie woke up in a barber chair in a shop where survivors took refuge. Fire Chief A.H. Myers, who lived in the building, charged into the smoke and found his wife passed out on the floor. Throwing a wet towel over their heads, he carried her to safety. Robert Masson, his wife and baby son were trapped on the fifth floor. From a fourth-floor fire escape, firefighters Louis Meeks and L.J. McAtee tossed a rope ladder to them. Masson climbed down with the baby but was stuck several feet to the side of the landing. Fifty feet off the ground, McAtee leaned out and Masson swung the boy to him. McAtee caught him and pulled him to safety. Masson and his wife climbed to safety and the crowd cheered. Eight people perished, including three children. The fire probably started with a boiler, though the exact cause is unknown. Businessman Isaac Peyton later rebuilt the charred hulk, added two floors and named it the Peyton Building. – Jesse Tinsley


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