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Compiled by Mike Legeros
Created November 23, 2014
Last updated August 23, 2017
This page presents research by Mike Legeros that attempts to answer the question "how many fires have happened in Historic Oakwood."
The question was posted by The Society For the Preservation of Historic Oakwood, in advance of their annual Candlelight Tour in 2014. He accepted the challenge and conducted six weeks of subsequent research.
His parameters for inclusion were:
His sources included Oakwood historian Matthew Brown, News & Observer and Raleigh Times stories, Raleigh Fire Department records including their public fire report web site, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, city directories, and county real estate records.
Five tiers of fires have occurred in the historic district:
|Major (damage) fires, building not destroyed||12|
|Working fires, not major damage, but more than minimal damage||72|
|Outbuildings, kitchens, barns, garages||11|
|Unconfirmed, need dates or addresses||12|
One of the fires killed four people on April 29, 1982. It was one of the deadliest in the city's history.
Another on February 18, 1958, injured firefighter Claude Johnson, who broke his leg. It was later amputated and he was unable to return to firefighting. He became a dispatcher and retired as such twenty years later. Read that story.
The earliest fire was 1890, the latest was 2012. The totals for recent decades are three in 2010s, five in 2000s, twelve in 1990s, nine in 1980s, and thirteen in 1970s.
The report also cites some smaller fires (31), some notable fires outside the district (A&P grocery, IGA grocery, etc.), and even a list of fireman that lived in Historic Oakwood.
Data review is absolutely encouraged. Help the historian correct errors, clarify information, and, of course, add other fires yet confirmed or discovered.
These results were presented at a monthly meeting of the preservation society on November 13, 2014:
Research document (pdf).
One-page summary (pdf).
These questions were asked during the presentation on November 13, 2014.
Q: The buildings in your list that have burned down were all
destroyed (except one) in recent decades? What is that?
A: To be determined! Might reflect trends in occupancies. Might correlate to deteriorating conditions of particular structures.
Q: Why isn't the fire that I remember happening listed here?
A: First, there are two buckets of data. First are the working fires, split into five tiers. Those are the fires where flames damaged an entire room, or the contents of an entire room. Or greater. Second are the smaller fires, which can include things like a mattress that caught fire, or something cooking on a stove that filled the house with smoke. (And such a fire can produce enough smoke that the carpeting and other materials require replacement. Thus the label "small fire" is a relative one. For the homeowner, it's still a big deal!)
Q: How complete is your data?
A: For working fires, it's pretty darned robust. Through oral histories and newspaper articles and log book entries and Legeros research over the years, we've nailed the lion's share. Or maybe nearly all. For "small fires," which are included at the end of the research document, it's more of a representative sampling. Such fires are harder to find in the historical record. Plus they weren't the focus of the project. Rather, they were tallied as ancillary data as a bonus.
Q: How often will you update this data?
A: Will keep poking around for another week or two. By early or mid-December, it'll probably be done for the duration.
Left to right, top to bottom: 222 North Bloodworth on February 17, 1957, 407 Polk on February 18,
1958, 403 Edenton Street x 2 on July 23, 1978, and 202 Linden on March 20,
1984. Click once or twice to enlarge:
News & Observer photos
Left to right, top to bottom: 515 Oakwood on October 12, 1991 (Harkey), 500 Franklin on April 6, 1992 (two photos) (Harkey), 405-407 New Bern on June 20, 1993 (Harkey), 501 Oakwood on November 3, 1999 (Wilson), and 100 North Bloodworth on July 5, 2001 (Wilson). Click to enlarge:
Jeff Harkey, Lee Wilson photos
Left to right, top to bottom: 405 N. East Street on January 10, 2010 and 704 E. Franklin Street on October 10, 2011.
Mike Legeros photos
Copyright 2023 by Michael J. Legeros