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As It Was: Dunsmuir, Calif., “Big Fire” Nearly Destroys Town

Fire raged through the wooden Knights of Pythias Hall in Dunsmuir, Calif., in 1924, and spread through much of the town in what became known as “The Big Fire.”  Luckily, the fire ignited after members had left a banquet.

One resident, Audrey Moore McLead, woke up in her grandmother’s house and saw strange, eerie shadows bouncing along the walls.  Seconds after she ran from the room, the heat of the approaching fire shattered the windowpane.

The Southern Pacific fire siren shrieked as firemen began an all-night battle against the flames.

The fire burned down the Methodist Church and Parsonage, several residences, the Dunsmuir News plant, the Riverview Rooming House, two Southern Pacific houses, the Manfredi Bakery and Store, and the Episcopal Church and Parsonage.

Fire crews of the Pacific Power Co. and neighboring towns rushed to help, crediting an adequate water supply for keeping the fire from burning down the entire town. 

An investigation revealed the most likely source of the fire was the flue in the Knights’ Hall.  Although many of the buildings were underinsured, the Dunsmuir News reported considerable new building activity the following year. 

Source: Coon, Reva P. Ties & Tales, The Little Town Once Called Pusher. Dunsmuir California, Castle R Publishing, 1997, pp. 68-70.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.