Guthery Apartments in Charlotte, 1940

This is a blog version of a Facebook posting.

Reader question. Hey Mike, both Philadelphia and NYC have had their deadliest residential fires in decades. What’s the worst residential/multi-family fire in NC history? Answer: Believe it’s the Guthery Apartments in Charlotte on North Tryon Street on March 15, 1940, that killed nine.

Recounts the Charlotte Fire Department in their 2000 millennium history book: “The fire began in the basement at the rear of the building in the boiler room, spread quickly through interior hallways, and cut off escape routes. Seven people died at the scene and seven were injured; two later died in the hospital, bring the total deaths to nine. At least one death was caused by injuries sustained when a woman leaped three stories to escape the flames.”

“The fire was reported around one a.m.; assistant Chief Donald Charles pulled a general alarm on his arrival, and all firefighters and apparatus in the [CFD] responded to the scene. The fire eventually went to six alarms. Firefighters were hampered by subfreezing temperatures and by the panic of the occupants; two firemen were injured by people jumping. The building was repaired and still stands; the damage from the fire is visible on the back side.”

From the newspaper accounts, here are some additional details.

“The blaze, possibly originating in the basement, swept through the apartments on the top floor, and created a trap of death from which the pajama-clad residents sought escape–hanging from the windows, some of them hurtling, screaming, to the earth.” “Charlotte’s fire department, mobilized to a man, grimly battled the blaze and brought it under control about 2:30 o’clock this morning.”

The fire occurred in “the older section of the building” and displaced some 30 families. The newer section of the building “was not touched by the flames,” although a passageway connected the two. “Charotte’s fire, police, ambulance, and hospital services swung instantly into smooth-running action to handle the disaster. Seconds after the first alarm announced the fire at 1:08 a.m., sirens were screaming in every section of the city.”

“Alarms were turned in at 1:08 a.m., 1:12, 1:14, 1:16, 1:17, and 1:22.” And “within 15 minutes, six alarms had been [struck] and 10 pieces of [apparatus] manned by 100 firemen were heading to the scene.” “City, county, and state police officers answered the emergency call and aid the work of rescues.”

Four deceased victims were found at the fire. Three others died at a hospitals a few hours later. The eighth victim died two days later. The ninth victim died two weeks later.

Read these articles as PDF files at this Google drive folder.

Read the Charlotte FD history book

Legeros database of deadliest fires in North Carolina.

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One Comment

  1. My mother, Lydia Pittmam, before I was born, lived on the third floor in the Guthrie and had to hang by her fingertips outside her window in that fire. She eventually dropped to the ground below braking her back and lived with her broken back the rest of her life.

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