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Death Toll in Klamath Falls Hotel Fire Remains Uncertain

It’s not known exactly how many people died in the Labor Day weekend fire that swept through the 50-room Houston Hotel in Klamath Falls, Ore., early in the morning of Sept, 6, 1920.  Officials buried at least 14 bodies, making it the deadliest in Klamath Falls history.  The exact number of dead is unknown because some remains were too damaged to be positively identified as human.

Patrolman M.L. Barnett had ended his night shift early and returned to his apartment about 100 feet from the hotel when he heard screams at 3:17 a.m., rushed outside and saw the filled-to-capacity hotel on fire. He ran to the burning hotel, but didn’t open any doors for fear of creating a draft that would intensify the fire.  He shouted as loud as he could to awaken people inside the hotel and began assisting injured people who had jumped from windows. 

Mrs. Mary Campora threw her baby from a third-floor window into a blanket held by fire fighters and then jumped herself.  The 3-day-old baby was unharmed, and Campora was hospitalized, but survived.

A somber annual Labor Day parade passed by the smoking rubble the next day.


Sources: Creasey, Andrew. "Monument to honor victims buried in unmarked graves." Herald and News 22 Aug. 2012 [Klamath Falls, Ore.] . Web. 20 Oct. 2016. http://www.heraldandnews.com/members/news/frontpage/houston-hotel-fire-this-needs-to-be-marked-so-it/article_dfbbf5d6-9029-11e1-9faa-001a4bcf887a.html; "Victims Give Versions of Hotel Fire." Evening Herald 8 Sept. 1920 [Klamath Falls, Ore.] : 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn99063812/1920-09-09/ed-1/seq-1.pdf; Ashland Women Die in Fire at Klamath Falls; Others Feared For; Nine Bodies are Recovered." Ashland Weekly Tidings 8 Sept. 1920: 1. Historic Oregon Newspapers. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. .

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.