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Hotel Fire Takes at Least 14 Lives in Klamath Falls

A headstone engraving in the Linkville Pioneer Cemetery in Klamath Falls reads:

Dedicated to the unidentified victims

Houston Hotel Fire

Sept. 6, 1920.

 

At least 14 people died in the pre-dawn fire when the hotel at the corner of Main and Second streets was jammed with Labor Day weekend guests, some overflowing onto hallway cots.  Officials identified seven bodies and buried at least another seven in two unmarked plots in the Pioneer Cemetery.

Ninety years later, the Klamath Falls Herald and News reported that determining the number of dead was difficult because many remains were “too damaged to be positively identified as human.”  One responding fireman described some remains as “simply charred backbones entwined in blackened metal bed springs.”

A policeman first spotted the fire. The newspaper said, “Firefighters arrived to chaos.  Flames by then had engulfed two blocks on both sides of the street.  People on the hotel’s second floor were trying to escape using ropes dangling from windows.” 

The Klamath County Historical Society dedicated the cemetery memorial headstone on April 28, 2012.  A society board member said more lives were lost than in any other fire in the city’s history.

 

Sources: "1920 Houston Hotel fire: ‘This needs to be marked so it’s not forgotten.’" Herald and News 27 Apr. 2012 [Klamath Falls, Ore.] . Web. 15 May 2015. .

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.