I knew Noblesville had experienced some big fires in the downtown area during the 20th century and Sheridan’s 1913 fire is legendary, but I wasn’t aware Fishers had also been threatened by a major conflagration until I got a recent email from Mary Kingsolver Ryder.

Mary mentioned that a huge fire had taken place at the Fishers Lumber Co. when she was a young girl. She wasn’t sure of the date and couldn’t remember all the details, but she knew her father had been a volunteer firefighter who had helped battle the blaze.

After she raised the subject, I went digging in the old Noblesville Daily Ledgers and I found several articles about the fire, which took place February 2, 1946. In reporting the disaster, the Ledger described it as the largest fire loss Fishers had ever suffered.

Things could have been much, much worse, though.

The lumber company was situated at the west end of Fishers, on the south side of 116th Street, with the Nickel Plate tracks running along its eastern edge.

Fishers was so tiny then that the entire town could easily have been destroyed by a major fire at that location. The population was somewhere between the 1940 census count of 164 residents and the 1950 count of 219.

(Take a moment and try to wrap your head around those figures. The city is currently estimated at over 90,000!)

One of the lumber company’s truck drivers was the first to discover the blaze, which was believed to have been caused by an overheated furnace in the mill room.

At that time, Fishers’ firefighting equipment consisted solely of a 1927 REO chemical fire truck, on loan from the Carmel Fire Department. The truck carried a few shovels, a small ladder and five tanks of soda and acid.

Mary said the truck was kept in Milo Booth’s garage. Although the garage happened to be located right across the street from the lumber company, that didn’t help much. Mary wasn’t sure, but seemed to recall the truck either didn’t run or had a flat tire, and had to be pushed out of the garage. (Can anyone confirm that?)

In any event, according to the Ledger, the truck ran out of chemicals too soon to be of any real use.

To make matters worse, the fire had burned out the wiring for the water pump at the lumber yard. That meant all the water to battle the flames had to come from pumper trucks brought in from Noblesville, Carmel and Broad Ripple, and from a bucket brigade of Fishers men, women and children who carried water to the pumper trucks.

Some water came from tanks owned by the lumber company, some from the Fishers Elevator Company and some from residents who allowed the Carmel pumper drain their wells.

While the Noblesville firefighters prevented the fire from spreading to one of the buildings which stored lumber, the men from Carmel saved several homes from serious damage, including the home of the assistant County Highway Superintendent.

The Carmel firefighters also stuck around for three hours after the fire was under control, pumping water on the smoking ruins to make sure the blaze didn’t flare up again. 

When all was said and done, the Fishers Lumber Company lost its rear lumber sheds, mill buildings, and finish and plywood sheds, but the office buildings, front lumber sheds, and the stock out in the yard survived.

Thanks to the efforts of the firefighters and the people of Fishers, not only did the 30 year-old company manage to keep its doors open, it continued to serve the Fishers community for many years to come.

-Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com