COBWEB CORNERS: Night-long fire at the rail yards
By Mel McFarland
A hundred years ago the area from 26th to 21st Street, along what is now US 24, was the Colorado Midland railroad yards. Occasionally there were accidents and fires. In 1895, there was a fire that burned all night.
A box car with oil was sitting on a track waiting to be taken west. In those days there were very few "tank cars." Oil traveled in box cars which had big tubs or even barrels. This car had two metal tubs. At 9 p.m., a worker in the yards noticed a glow coming from it. The cause of the fire was never found, but by the time the worker got to the car it was blazing. The oil in the tanks was not burning, but the car was! A switch crew working in the yards came to the rescue. They moved cars that were threatened away from the ever-growing blaze. The car itself was burning so wildly that attempts to move it were abandoned. Soon even the oil in the tanks was burning. Big thick clouds of smoke rolled into the air.
The Colorado City fire company was on the scene. The company was just a few minutes away when the fire was discovered. A few attempts to squirt water on the fire provided only entertainment! A crowd had gathered on the north side of Fountain Creek. A few brave souls even found their way to the south side, near the rail yard. When one of the tanks blew up, a fireball spread toward the crowd and there was a scramble to get clear. An old barb- wire fence along the yards caused some problems, snagging a few on their escape.
As the fire burned through the night, hundreds from Colorado Springs and Manitou came to the scene. The streetcars were running at capacity. The saloons in town were offering fire specials! A large crowd stayed on until the sun came up. Additional explosions happened, mostly before midnight. Each time a gasp from the crowd was heard, followed by scrambles, but luckily no spectators were seriously hurt.
In the morning, the hot remains of warped rails, melted car parts, and smoking ties and embers marked the spot. All trains to the east and west had waited for the fire to go out. Passengers got a great view as they rolled past in the morning!