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Four devastating fires in 1914 caused Fort Myers to buy motor-driven fire engine

The Thomas A. Edison burned to the waterline during a fire on January 30, 1914.
The Thomas A. Edison burned to the waterline during a fire on January 30, 1914.
Courtesy of Florida State Photo Archive.

On this day in 1915, Fort Myers got its first motor-driven fire engine. The fire truck had the capability of pumping 750 gallons per minute and came equipped with 500 lineal feet of hose. The city acquired it after the downtown business section suffered four catastrophic fires in less than 11 months during the previous year.

The series of devastating fires started on January 30, 1914 when the fruit packing plant at the end of the pier where the Harborside Event Center is located today caught fire and burned to the waterline along with the Thomas A. Edison and a handful of other vessels. The plant was reputed to be the largest citrus plant in the world, and Harvie Heitman estimated his losses at $150,000, which would be the equivalent of $3.5 million in 2014 dollars.

On June 18, the sidewheel steamer Planters burned to the water's edge while anchored 300 feet off the dock and on September 18, the Heitman warehouse on the pier was also destroyed by fire. But the worst fire occurred on November 18, when eight woodframe buildings at Hendry and Oak were gutted by fire. Among the structures lost in the blaze were Hotel Michigan, several stores and even the fire department, and for awhile, the entire downtown business section lay in peril.

As a result of the close call, the city council opted to buy a modern, motor-driven fire engine. Ironically, before the fire engine arrived, a fire started on February 26, 1915 near the exit of the Grand Theatre in the Langford Building. That fire spread to the theatre and nearby stores before it could be extinguished.