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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Ferry County: Theater in Republic destroyed, business district threatened by fire

From our archive,

100 years ago

A woman lost her life and the entire business district of Republic, Washington, was threatened by fire – all because of a movie projector.

Mrs. B.F. Hibbard was visiting her husband in the projector booth of the Palace Theater in Republic when Mr. Hibbard prepared to replace a “red hot carbon” in the projector. He grabbed it with pincers, but then he dropped it. It fell onto a jumble of unreeled film on the floor.

The film started to burn and Mrs. Hibbard’s clothes were about to catch on fire, so Hibbard kicked the burning material aside. It fell, unfortunately, through a trap door and into the theater balcony.

“An explosion immediately followed that scattered the flames, and soon the wooden fixtures and building were burning fiercely,” said a correspondent.

Mrs. Hibbard yelled, “Fire!” and 20 people in the audience were able to escape unharmed.

Hibbard shouted to his wife to follow him and he “charged through the flames.” He believed Mrs. Hibbard was right behind him. When Mr. Hibbard emerged, he was seriously burned, and his wife was nowhere to be found. She had apparently been overcome by smoke or flames. By then, the theater was burning too fiercely to attempt a rescue. She left three small children motherless.

Meanwhile, the Republic fire crews arrived and were able to save the business district after the fire reached an open lot. However, the theater and two adjoining buildings – a lodging house and an office building – were destroyed.

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