1900 to 2000
What Was Life Like?
Part 2

By Beverly Lane

Fires, called “tongues of venom” by one writer, seared people’s memories throughout valley history. Fires destroyed valley landmarks over 50 years ago and flared up on Mt. Diablo. Newspaper articles described these devastating fires.

DANVILLE EMPORIUM
Four Homes are Burned at Danville
Contra Costa Courier and Danville Journal July 16, 1926

Fire caused by jelly boiling over on a coal oil stove and bursting into flames, completely destroyed a store and three homes in Danville on Monday afternoon and for several hours threatened the entire town of Danville with conflagration. The loss is estimated at $30,000.

The buildings destroyed are a store, “The Danville Emporium”, belonging to Joseph Foster and three houses. Mrs. Joseph Foster was making jelly on a coal oil stove in the rear of the store which was used for their living quarters, when the jelly boiled over, causing the room to burst into flames. Grabbing her small baby, Mrs. Foster ran from the room screaming for help.

Foster ran into the burning quarters and managed to save some personal effects. Foster was badly burned on the face and hands. In the meantime, the alarm for aid was sent to Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Concord and Martinez and within a very short time the engines from Walnut Creek and Lafayette arrived.

Farmers from the adjacent town formed a basket brigade and worked to extinguish the cinders that were alighting on buildings in the rear and around the burning houses.

Pete Lynch of San Ramon, was overcome by the flames while trying to save merchandise in Foster’s store.

DANVILLE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Landmark of Danville is Destroyed by Fire
Courier-Journal, Walnut Creek, Ca. June 2, 1932

One of the old landmarks of the San Ramon Valley was burned to the ground Friday night when the Presbyterian church of Danville was destroyed by fire from an unknown cause. The church had been built about 58 years ago and in those 58 years has seen continuous services every Sunday.

The conflagration which started earlier in the evening, broke into a blaze about 12:30. The roaring wind fanned the blaze and blew the sparks to neighboring and adjacent buildings which took the combined efforts of the Danville and Walnut Creek Fire departments to keep them from being destroyed by the fire. Through the heroic efforts of these firefighters, the pastor’s house about 50 feet away was saved from burning and a tool house within 20 feet was also saved.

The terrific gusts of wind blew the red hot sparks a distance of three quarters of a mile and kept the firemen diligently working to extinguish grass fires which started at different intervals. Flaming shingles set afire the barn on the Flournoy ranch, 300 yards from the church, but the blaze was quickly extinguished.

BALDWIN HOUSE
Lack of Water Causes Loss of San Ramon Valley Landmark
Valley Pioneer, Danville Calif. Thurs., April 21, 1955

Early Tuesday morning fire broke out in the kitchen wing of the John Baldwin home on the highway south of Danville and ultimately destroyed the landmark home, leaving only the foundations and three tall chimneys standing.

Mr. Baldwin, 81, and his housekeeper, Mrs. Sarah Lewis, 60, were forced to flee in their night clothes. Nothing was saved from the home.

With the work of the Danville Fire Department and workers from the nearby Bishop Ranch, the fire might have been brought under control, but the water supply gave out. The fire was caused by faulty wiring, according to Fire Chief Duane Elliott.

More than 30 volunteers struggled for several hours to save the structure and did manage to save nearby buildings.

Fire Chief Elliott placed the damage to the home at $15,000 but said no value could be put on the large amount of antique furniture and early-day possessions in the home which was built in 1888.

FIRES ON MOUNT DIABLO
No landmark more prominent, no fires more spectacular.
Fire Line, San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, 75 Years of Service, p. 29

Since 1891, when records began, Mt. Diablo has had 108 fires…in 1977 from August 1-5, a fire ignited by lightning burned 6,041 acres on the northern side. One of the largest fires ever, burned for five days, from July 2 – 7 in 1931, and consumed 14,000 acres of grass and brush on the south side.

Volunteer fireman and Fire Chief Duane Elliott remembered the 1931 fire: “We were there for three days and two nights. I slept on the rocks and the fire headed towards Livermore.”