The Standard Oil Bulk Station Fire of 1916
Charles City, Floyd county, Iowa
On December 14, 1881 Charles City initiated its first fire department. Sixty honorary members
each contributed $1 and thirty active members fought the fires. In 1910, the city built its citizens a new fire station, and firefighters had the services of Tom and Jerry, two bay horses that pulled the fire wagon.
The city had been destroyed by fire October 23, 1862. Hotels, businesses, stores, law offices: all succumbed to the flames. After 1881, the fire department with its active firefighters, fire station, fire wagon and horses all provided a measure of safety Charles Citians hadn’t had before. The Standard Oil Bulk Station explosion on August 25, 1916 proved deadly nevertheless.
Even though the bulk of the tank was blown down the railroad tracks to the river, “firemen were unable to uncap one of the tanks which exploded raining hot embers on the spectators….Twelve-year-old Otto Weisner, who rode his bike to the fire, was hit by the showering embers and ran in flames into the yard of Mrs. Noah Sweet, mother of Lowell Sweet, who wrapped him in a quilt. He died from his burns.” A man who had been working in his yard also died. Marv Martens remembers, “’My folks didn’t know where I was. I was with a young vet, who worked with Dr. McLeod…We went in a two-wheel pony cart and were about where the football field is when the tank blew. It had been sitting horizontally on piers. When the end blew out, it sent a ball of fire up in the air north and east. The heat was intense and people started running. We gave the horse his head and we got away faster. The burning oil came down—that’s what got so many people. The Shoemaker boy, whose father had the five-and- dime, was badly burned.’ ‘I can’t tell you what the fuel was. There was a brick building by the street, and tank cars would unload on the siding, using a gas engine to pump fuel from the cars into the storage tanks.’”
Sources: SHSI: Past Harvests: A History of Floyd County to 1996; “Floyd County Heritage” newsletter 23.2, April 1994.