Drought, Fireworks, and Fire
The effects of bad weather are often the result of both weather conditions and human behavior whether before, during, or after the severe weather event. The story of the June 27, 1931, fire in Spencer makes this point vividly.
By late June it was already clear that a drought had developed in Clay County. June 27 was a hot, windy day. Anticipating the July 4th celebration, a boy couldn’t resist a fireworks display. He lit a sparkler and, as the story goes, when someone screamed he dropped the lit sparkler into the display of sparklers. They ignited, and propelled by the fuel, the wind, and the dry air, the fire quickly spread to the next building. It met a firewall at the side of the Clay County Bank, where it crossed the street! The fire “ignited the pavement and destroyed two and one-half blocks of buildings.
Nearby homes fought roof fires as sparks spread. [Given the drought] water pressure was low and river water was pumped into the mains.” Residents then had to be warned not to drink the town water.
Neighboring towns arrived to help, and dynamite was flown in to stop the aggressive fire fueled by the hot wind.
In the end property damage totaled $2million.
In the twenty-first century when the Iowa legislature was considering changing its prohibition on the sale of many fireworks in the state, many folks were still remembering the Spencer fire of 1931.
Sources: SHSI: Parker Historical Society of Clay County, The History of Clay County, 1984.