The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: Fire Department

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

  Triangle Shirtwaist Co.  
An undated photo of Triangle Shirtwaist Co. employees courtesy of HBO.

  March 26, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Fire  

March 26, 1911: “A 13-year-old girl hung for three minutes by her fingertips to the sill of a 10th-floor window. A tongue of flame licked at her fingers and she dropped into a life net held by firemen. Two women fell into the net at almost the same moment. The strands parted and the two were added to the death list.

“A girl threw her pocketbook, then her hat, then her furs from a 10th-floor window. A moment later her body came whirling after them to death."


Last Survivor of 1911 Sweatshop Fire Dies

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84 Die as Fire Rages Through MGM Grand, Nov. 21, 1980

  Nov. 21, 1980, Cover  

Nov. 21-22, 1980: A fire in the deli at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas spreads into the casino and then through the high-rise building, killing 84 people. The first-day story is by the master rewrite man, Eric Malnic. The Times stories on this disaster are a casebook on how to cover breaking news. A color story by Henry Mendoza and Richard West on the second day is especially worth reading.

Also on the jump, a lengthy analysis by Bob Secter, Gaylord Shaw and Ronald L. Soble on what was the second-worst fire in U.S. history.

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Wildfire Destroys 61 Homes in Bradbury

  Nov. 17, 1980, Fire  

  Nov. 17, 1980, Fire Damage  

Nov. 17, 1980: A brush fire roars through Bradbury. On the jump, a story by the master, Eric Malnic, who notes that race car driver Mickey Thompson lost six vehicles but saved his house. (Thompson and his wife were shot to death in the driveway of their Bradbury home in 1988.)

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An American Fourth of July


July 5, 1910, Highland Fling

July 5, 1910, Tossing the Caber

July 5, 1910: The Scottish American community of Los Angeles celebrates the Fourth of July with the Highland Fling and the caber toss. And there’s nobody on talk radio to tell them to go back “home” if they don’t like it in the U.S. 

On the jump, two items of special interest.

The first is the account of a fire at a brewery, which may – or may not – have been due to union agitators, depending on whether one reads The Times or the Herald. 

The second is accounts from The Times and the Herald about usage of the streetcar system from downtown to the beaches on the Fourth of July, 1910.

The Times said: "The exodus began early in the morning and officials of the Pacific Electric say that with the possible exception of fleet week, there has never in the history of Los Angeles been such heavy travel in one day."

The Times also said: "Every bit of passenger rolling stock of the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Pacific was called into service and during the morning hours the trains were run as close together as they could be with safety."

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The Brave Projectionist

 June 25, 1910, Projectionist

June 25, 1910: F.A. Horton had been working for about a week as a projectionist at the Art Theater, 508 S. Broadway, when a length of nitrate film caught fire. "The film ignited with a flash and the fire raced down into the magazine and followed the ribbon along the floor of the steel-lined, asbestos-padded operating room," The Times said.

Horton grabbed the burning film and put it in a corner, then slammed the door of the steel-lined projection booth before four more reels of film caught fire. The audience filed out of the theater so calmly that not a single chair was upset. Horton was taken to the receiving hospital and treated for an injured hand, The Times said. 

On the jump, it’s Wunderhose Day! And the local Hebrew Benevolent Society has been asked to take part in a nationwide effort to help 300 Jews immigrating from Russia, but officials say they can’t help. "We do not feel that we can encourage the importation of any unskilled labor at this time. We are taking care of as many industrious Hebrews as we can find employment for, and until the industrial situation in this section improves, we must proceed carefully," A.M. Norton says. 
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Pages of History

Fire Commission, 1885
Photograph by Larry Harnisch / Los Angeles Times

I went to the city archives on Monday to see what I could find about the Oct. 1, 1910, bombing of The Times. There wasn’t too much (the Police Commission minutes for that period are missing, btw)  but I did get to examine the first volume of Fire Commission minutes, including Ordinance 205, establishing the Fire Department.  I was hoping that there was some sort of record on fire inspections of The Times Building as it was under construction in 1886, but according to one entry, it wasn’t until 1887 that the Fire Commission asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance giving it authority over building construction.

Fire Commission minutes in the early years are quite brief and consist mainly of an accounting of money (buying feed for all those horses), equipment and such things as the placement of fire plugs. By 1910, the commission was far more involved in granting permits for gasoline engines, electric motors, boilers, fuel storage tanks and that sort of thing. And the minutes are typewritten – thank goodness! 

On the jump, the text of Ordinance 205 from The Times, Dec. 2, 1885.

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