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Emergency Management in Mississippi. The case of the 1904 Yazoo City Fire

von Leisa McElreath (Autor) Ashley McElreath Lindsley (Autor)

Essay 2018 8 Seiten

Organisation und Verwaltung - Katastrophenschutz

Leseprobe

Abstract

This case study presents an overview of the 1904 Yazoo City fire. Although its origin remains unknown, fire quickly gutted the city. However, half a year after the incident, they community’s resiliency was demonstrated through the opening of new businesses and spurring of economic activity. Between the incident and the emergence of economic activity, the period of recovery exhibited the use of various cooperative efforts toward achieving societal normalcy. This paper examines the 1904 fire from the perspective of emergency management.

Incendiary Destructiveness in Mississippi

On May 25, 1904, Yazoo City, Mississippi, the Gateway to the Mississippi Delta, was devastated by fire that swept through the town and destroyed the entire business district of 124 buildings, and as many as 200 homes. Surprisingly, in this destruction, none of the city’s residents, estimated to have been from 4,000 to 7,000, were reported killed, although at least one death was reported as the result of injuries inflicted as a building collapsed.[1] Regardless, fire gutted the town.

Mississippi towns have not been immune to the devastation of fires. During the American Civil War much of Oxford, Mississippi was burned by federal forces. Fires, arising infrequently from both man-made and natural origins, remain a significant danger to Mississippians during modern times. For instance, during January, 2014, the town of New Albany was rocked by multiple explosions at a bio-diesel plant.[2] Afterwards, fires burned uncontrollably because they were initially too hot for firefighters to approach the incident location.[3] A decision was made to let the “fire burn itself out.”[4] Both the historical Yazoo City incident and the modern New Albany incident show the dangerousness of fire and the susceptibility of society to flammable events. Although much changed societally during the century between these events, one common observation pervades both periods: fire may occur anywhere, anytime.

Scope of the Disaster

The scope of the disaster was breathtaking. Only one livery stable, one drug store, and two churches were left standing in the entire downtown area. At least 3,000 people, almost half of the town's population, were directly affected by the disaster as owners, tenants, or employees of the businesses destroyed by the tragedy. By December 1904, a little more than six months after the disaster, Yazoo City had transformed itself. More than 80 businesses were operational, many in newly constructed or significantly renovated facilities. Streets in the commercial district were widened. New public buildings, including a new school, had opened their doors or were well on the way to completion. The new business district was wired for electricity and an electric streetcar line was approved for bid by city officials. It appeared Yazoo City would soon become a model city with all the technological marvels of the new century. Yazoo City made a bold statement by the robustness of its recovery, and arose eventually from the ashes of destruction.

The Yazoo City Fire

May 25, 1904 was typical for a small Mississippi town. The weather conditions were clear, and even the unusually high winds of the day ensured pleasant conditions. It was unimaginable that Yazoo City would be changed forever during the next 24 hours. The original source of the fire is debated. One report suggested a young boy playing with matches under his home only a block from the heart of the business district was responsible for the fire.[5] Some suggested the disaster originated when a fire began as an electrical fire in a house located on the corner of Mound and Commercial Streets, and that this fire quickly engulfed the home and spread to nearby structures. During the time it took for the local volunteer fire department to respond to the fire alarm, the flames spread by the winds began their journey through the city. Others even attributed the fire’s origin to a witch’s curse.

One of the eye witnesses, Emma Lee Stubblefield, said she raced from her house and saw “flames leaping through the air three blocks at a time. People were running through the streets screaming like they were wild.”[6] What is known is the fire started about 8:30 AM and burned until about 5:00 PM, destroying about two hundred houses and a major part of the city’s business district. In the business district alone, the fire swept through an area three blocks wide and twelve blocks long inflicting damages estimated at the time to be in excess of $2,000,000.

The First Responders

The Yazoo City Fire Department relied on manpower consisting of volunteers. Today, even the actual size of the Yazoo City Fire Department at the time is debatable. The 1903 – 1904 National Fire Protection and Water Supply report stated that the Yazoo City Fire Department consisted of one paid member and 119 volunteers,[7] but reports after the disaster indicate 20 volunteer firemen initially responded to the alarm. As the volunteers raced to get their equipment, the fire was quickly spreading. There is very little question that the responding firefighters did everything in their power to combat the fire. Soon, the sheer number of burning buildings made the efforts of the firefighters almost futile. Using the technology of the day, they quickly discovered that in spite of their heroic efforts the fire would soon engulf major parts of the city. One of the major factors dooming the effectiveness of their efforts was the failure of the city’s waterworks system to provide adequate water pressure to quench a fire at even one house, much less the entire town. At the time of the fire, the city was replacing the old city water system, which had wooden mains, with a modern water system. Eyewitness accounts reported that when pressed into service, the city water system failed. Pipes burst throughout the city destroying any hope of achieving the water pressure needed to effectively abating the flames. Though frustrated, those fighting the fires did not accept defeat. It soon became a question of how much of the city would the fire destroy before some type of fire break could be established to stop the flames.[8]

According to eye witnesses “the roar of the ever-increasing flames, the confusion of terrorized thousands, the hoarse shouts of the firefighters, and the sound of crashing walls made a scene of awesome horror that remained a fixed picture in the memory of eyewitnesses as long as their lives lasted. Many homes were destroyed, and every bank, every physician's, lawyer's and dentist's office, every hotel and boardinghouse, every meat market and bakery, the newspaper and printing office, every church, clubroom, and lodge room, every telephone, telegraph and express office, the depot, the post office, every furniture store, every hardware store, all but one livery stable, all but one drugstore, every barbershop, every tailor shop, every undertaking establishment, and, in fact, nearly every business necessity.”[9] Yazoo City was decimated incrementally despite valiant efforts to control the spreading fire.

Although the fire disrupted communications outside the city, reports of the inferno were reaching neighboring towns, many of which were making their best efforts to send assistance. Six hours after the fire began, W.T. Bradley, the manager of the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company, re-established long distance telephone service on a street corner. He was also pleading for help and would serve as a valuable link to the outside world reporting the scope of the disaster. Throughout the night, help was pouring in by train, horseback, and wagon. Recovery began most immediately. As soon as the area had cooled enough for them to draw close, people sifted through the ashes of their property, and were making plans to rebuild. Early Monday morning, workers began clearing the debris, opening the streets, and assessing the damages. It was estimated that over 2000 people were engaged in removing debris and taking the first steps to returning Yazoo City to a somewhat normal life. Recovery would take time, money, and an emotional commitment to bring the city back from the disaster.

Activation of the State Militia to Provide Security

Mississippi Governor James Vardaman and Adjutant-General Eldridge quickly departed Jackson by train to personally view the extent of damage and determine appropriate assistance to be provided by the state. Recognizing the extent of the destruction, Governor Vardaman ordered the activation of the Greenwood Military Company, directing them immediately travel to Yazoo City, provide security, and assist with the initial recovery efforts.

The military forces of Mississippi soon arrived in Yazoo City where they significantly contributed to the initial recovery operations, assisted with search and rescue, and provided security as directed. Shock and confusion faded to a serendipitous realization regarding the survivors. Although the disaster had taken a major toll on property, the number of those injured or killed was fortunately small. It was up to each individual to now decide what steps to take next; either one could leave Yazoo City or become part of is recovery and rebirth.

The use of the militia was commensurate with modern tenets of emergency management (McElreath, et al., 2016). A need for security existed to protect both humans and infrastructure as well as maintaining societal order. Use of the militia also provided a means toward deterring criminality, such as vandalism, theft, or so forth. Similar expectations are associated with the modern militia. During modern times, soldiers of state defense forces are prepared and expected to serve during both man-made and natural disasters. Modern state defense force soldiers are typically unpaid volunteers whose military service contributes toward the betterment and quality of life of their individual states and society overall (Doss, Jones, & Sumrall, 2008; Doss, Sumrall, & Jones, 2008; Jones, Doss, & Sumrall, 2008; Jones, Sumrall, & Doss, 2008; McElreath, et al., 2016; Sumrall, Jones, & Doss, 2008; Sumrall, Doss, & Jones, 2008). Among arid states with significant forestation, dangers persist regarding the threat of wildfire. State defense forces are valuable resources that enhance firefighting efforts against wildfires. For instance, the California State Military Reserve was deployed to support wildfire firefighting operations during the years 2007 and 2008.[10]

Deployments of the California State Military Reserve were grim reminders of the array of natural threats that necessitated the use of state defense forces. During the Yazoo City fire, the military forces of Mississippi were deployed expediently for humanitarian purposes. The soldiers of the day rendered assistance to their fellow Mississippians whom were suffering and were incapable of further helping themselves with immediacy. During modern times, these same characteristics of servitude permeate state defense forces. All soldiers must remember that their service is never unappreciated by those who experience and suffer the devastating ravages of nature or man-made calamities.

Steps to Recovery

The citizens of Yazoo City proved to be extremely resilient. The buildings that escaped the disaster became centers of activity. Almost immediately, businesses impacted by the disaster took steps to resume operations. The post office, a drugstore, and two barbershops opened in the county courthouse. A restaurant, a soda fountain, and a news stand operated in the courtyard of the courthouse. The newspaper found temporary quarters on the second floor of a surviving building and resumed publishing in the cramped quarters.

Other businesses opened in any location they could find that was suitable. Some opened under tents, in warehouses, or even in an old railroad boxcar. Attorneys even combined their efforts in reestablishing a law library, replacing the one destroyed in the fire by providing law books from their professional libraries. By early June, it was clear that the citizens of the city were taking bold steps towards recovery. The postmaster received surpluses from secondhand postal equipment whereby mail service was established.

Property values in the downtown areas impacted by the fire suddenly increased as both speculators and businessmen moved to take advantage of what they saw as an opportunity to profit in the future of the city that was emerging from the rubble. Construction projects commenced as quickly as laborers and supplies could be obtained. Much of the initial rebuilding was in the commercial areas. By the middle of July, construction activity extended to the residential properties, with houses and small cottages being constructed rapidly. Before the end of the year, approximately 50 new homes would be constructed, making the rapid residential recovery of Yazoo City a remarkable achievement.[11]

Even with the increased residential construction, the commercial redevelopment had not lost momentum. Main Street was undergoing a major resurgence. By the end of July, it was estimated that as many as 1,000 men were employed working on the commercial buildings and homes damaged or destroyed in just a six block area. By the end of August, the rebuilding of Yazoo City was well underway. With the help and cooperation of the Keystone Lumber Yard and the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley railroads, Yazoo City supplies and materiel flowed in the city.[12] A new city was emerging from the ashes of devastation. Newspapers reported an interesting side note regarding the recovery. Recognizing the possibility of benefiting from the disaster, some carpenters and bricklayers threatened to strike or shift their efforts to other projects that would pay more if their demands for more money were ignored. Each employer responded to these threats individually, but what is known is that the rebuilding of the city continued unabated. As money flowed into the city, prices increased for needed labor and materials. Also, consumer prices increased because of the competition for limited resources as well as businessmen trying to make a profit.

Closing Commentary and Summary

During the period of the incident, the modern emergency management cycle did not exist. Modern firefighting technologies had not yet been invented. Responding entities of the period did their best with the available resources. Commensurate with their modern counterparts, the first-responders of the period expended their best efforts toward extinguishing the fire.

Regardless of the period or generation, the dangerousness of fire is undeniable in any society. Fire may spread quickly, unpredictably, and uncontrollably. In some cases, decisions may be made to allow fire to burn itself out while evacuating residents. The Yazoo incident showed that the city’s annihilation required only one day thereby showing the quickness with which infrastructure can be destroyed. The same concept is true during modern times: fire guts infrastructure quickly.

Another lesson from the 1904 incident involves the need for security. The state’s militia was activated as a response measure. During modern times, it is not uncommon for military units to be mobilized as responding entities. For instance, in California, the California Military Reserve fulfills missions associated with wildfires. Given these notions, regardless of generations or time, fire poses as much a danger to modern society as it did to preceding generations.

The Yazoo fire devastated the locality and impacted the town’s residents unalterably. Substantial infrastructure was destroyed, but the fire itself claimed no lives. The account of the fire was one of miraculous resiliency – a town reborn from the ashes of destruction. Within months after the devastation, economic activity was again vibrant among the bustling businesses that opened in the aftermath of the calamity. In due time, a new normalcy emerged within Yazoo.

References

California State Military Reserve. (2014). “What is the CSMR?” Retrieved from http://csmrsoldier.com/sample-page-2/

Cartwright, P. C. (2004). Rising from the Ashes “Sparks from the Fire” Yazoo City May 25, 1904. Edited and compiled from the Yazoo Sentinel, Yazoo Library Association, 2004.

City of Yazoo City. (2009). The History of Yazoo City. Retrieved from http://cityofyazoocity.org/?page_id=2

Davidson, J. (2014). Witch Way Yazoo? Jim Davidson Column. Retrieved from http://www.jimdavidsoncolumn.com/columns/?q=node/497

Davis, C. (2014). Explosions in Your Neighborhood: Evacuations Near New Albany After Plant Fire, News MS. Retrieved from http://www.newsms.fm/explosion-neighborhood-evacuations-near-new-albany-plant-fire/

Doss, D., McElreath, D., Jensen, C., Lackey, H., Jones, D., & Gokaraju, B. (2016). Modern emergency incident management: Lessons from the 1927 Mississippi River flood. Oklahoma City, OK: Southwest Academy of Management.

Doss, D., Jones, D., & Sumrall, W. (2008). Quantitatively considering state defense force volunteers: Organizational perceptions of commissioned officers versus non-commissioned personnel. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 13(1), 19-23.

Doss., D., Sumrall, W., & Jones, D. (2008). Volunteer service: Quantitatively examining the organizational perceptions of commissioned officers versus non-commissioned personnel of a state defense force. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 13(1),

Fire Protection and Water Supply, 1903 – 1904. The Spectator Company. (New York). 1904. P. 227.

Hambrick, J. (2011). Yazoo City Mississippi Witch Predicted the Fire That Destroyed the Town. Retrieved from http://southernmemoriesandupdates.com /2011/mississippi/yazoo-mississippi-witch-predicted-the-fire-that-destroyed-the-city/

Horton, L. (1904). Yazoo City, MS Fire, May 1904. Retrieved from http://www3.gendisasters.com/mississippi/4087/yazoo-city-ms-fire-may-1904

Jones, D., Doss, D., & Sumrall, W. (2008). Quantitatively examining the community service, burnout, and duty perceptions of commissioned officers versus non-commissioned personnel of a southern state defense force. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 13(1), 39-43.

Jones, D., Sumrall, W., & Doss, D. (2008). Examining perceptions of commissioned officers versus non-commissioned personnel of a state defense force: Medical conditions, family supportiveness, and job satisfaction. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 13(1), 45-49.

KLTV News. (2014). Fire Out at New Albany Bio-Diesel Plant, Retrieved from http://www.kltv.com/story/24537661/fire-out-at-bio-diesel-plant-in-new-albany

McElreath, D., Doss, D., Jensen, C., Lackey, H., Jones, D., Wigginton, M., & Goza, R. (2017). Dangers from the sea: Considerations of the 1900 Galveston hurricane. International Journal of Maritime History, 29 (3), 529-543.

McElreath, D. H, Doss, D., Jensen, C., Lackey, H., Jones, D., & Wigginton, M. (2016). The emergency management cycle: Modern lessons from the 1900 Galveston hurricane. Oklahoma City, OK: Southwest Academy of Management.

McElreath, D. H, Doss, D., Jensen, C., Lackey, H., Wigginton, M., & Jones, D. (2016). State defense forces: Strategic resources for homeland security and emergency management. Oklahoma City, OK: Southwest Academy of Management.

McElreath, D. H., Doss, D. A., Jensen, C. J., Wigginton, M. P., Nations, R., Van Slyke, J., & Nations, J. (2014). Foundations of Emergency Management. Debuque: Kendall Hunt.

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McElreath, L. S., Doss, D. A., & McElreath, D. H. (2014, Spring). 1904 Destruction of Yazoo City. Retrieved from Close the Loop: https://issuu.com/mssgpao/docs/ctlspring14final

Mohr, H. (2014). No One Injured in Early Morning Plant Explosion Near New Albany, Miss. Retrieved from http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2014/jan/22/no-one-injured-in-early-morning-plant-explosion/?CID=happeningnow

Sumrall, W., Doss, D., & Jones, D. (2008). Service perceptions of commissioned officers versus non-commissioned personnel of a state defense force concerning achievements, promotions, and duty time. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications, and Conflict, 13 (1), 71-75.

Sumrall, W., Jones, D., & Doss, D. (2008). Rank, grade, and pay: Examining the basic service perceptions of commissioned officers versus non-commissioned personnel of a Southern State Defense Force. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications, and Conflict, 13 (1), 77.

The Witch of Yazoo City. (2014). Retrieved on January 5, 2014 from http://tha-asylum.darkbb.com/t107-the-witch-of-yazoo-city-mississippi

[1] Horton, Linda. Yazoo City, MS Fire, May 1904. The Lexington Herald, Lexington, KY 26 May 1904. Retrieved on January 5, 2014 from http://www3.gendisasters.com/mississippi/4087/yazoo-city-ms-fire-may-1904.

[2] KLTV News. 2014. “Fire Out at New Albany Bio-Diesel Plant,” http://www.kltv.com/story/24537661/fire-out-at-bio-diesel-plant-in-new-albany (accessed February 25, 2014).

[3] Mohr, Holbrook. 2014. “No One Injured in Early Morning Plant Explosion Near New Albany, Miss.” The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2014/jan/22/no-one-injured-in-early-morning-plant-explosion/?CID=happeningnow (accessed February 25, 2014).

[4] Davis, Chris. 2014. “Explosions in Your Neighborhood: Evacuations Near New Albany After Plant Fire,” News MS, http://www.newsms.fm/explosion-neighborhood-evacuations-near-new-albany-plant-fire/ (accessed February 25, 2014).

[5] The History of Yazoo City. (2009) Retrieved on January 5, 2014 from http://cityofyazoocity.org/?page_id=2

[6] Hambrick, Judd. Yazoo City Mississippi Witch Predicted the Fire That Destroyed the Town. (September 6, 2011). Retrieved on January 5, 2014 from http://southernmemoriesandupdates.com/2011/mississippi/yazoo-mississippi-witch-predicted-the-fire-that-destroyed-the-city/

[7] Fire Protection and Water Suppy, 1903 – 1904. The Spectator Company. (New York). 1904. P. 227.

[8] Hambrick, Judd. Yazoo City Mississippi Witch Predicted the Fire That Destroyed the Town. (September 6, 2011). Retrieved on January 5, 2014 from http://southernmemoriesandupdates.com/2011/mississippi/yazoo-mississippi-witch-predicted-the-fire-that-destroyed-the-city/

[9] The Witch of Yazoo City. THA-ASYLUM. Retrieved on January 5, 2014 from http://tha-asylum.darkbb.com/t107-the-witch-of-yazoo-city-mississippi

[10] California State Military Reserve. 2014. “What is the CSMR?” http://csmrsoldier.com/sample-page-2/ (accessed February 24, 2014).

[11] Cartwright, Paul C. Rising from the Ashes “Sparks from the Fire” Yazoo City may 25, 1904. Edited and compiled from the Yazoo Sentinel, Yazoo Library Association, 2004.

[12] Davidson, Jim. Witch Way Yazoo? Jim Davidson Column. Retrieved on January 5, 2013 from http://www.jimdavidsoncolumn.com/columns/?q=node/497

Details

Seiten
8
Jahr
2018
ISBN (Buch)
9783668702738
Dateigröße
539 KB
Sprache
Deutsch
Katalognummer
v424922
Note
Schlagworte
emergency management mississippi yazoo city fire

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Titel: Emergency Management in Mississippi. The case of the 1904 Yazoo City Fire