Butte's Fire Department Nearly Wiped Out of Existence
Thirteen of the 15 firefighters on the scene were killed.
The Great Explosion of 1895 nearly obliterated the Butte Fire Department, one of the first professional fire departments in the state of Montana. Thirteen of the 15 firefighters who responded to the fire were killed, including Chief Angus Cameron.
Cameron was born in Canada in 1861 and was raised in Michigan. He dabbled in mining claims, eventually landing in Butte in 1883. He accepted a position as pipeman with the Butte Fire Department in 1889, after volunteering for years. Later that year he was appointed assistant chief of the department. In May, 1893, Cameron was unanimously appointed fire chief. He was known to be stern and strict, but also showed great kindness and consideration. According to the Anaconda Standard newspaper at the time of his death, “He never asked his men to go where he would not venture himself and where the danger was greatest the fearless chief was always farthest in front.”
Cameron led his men to the fire that fateful night on Hose Wagon Number One and fought alongside them. There was a small explosion in the Kenyon-Connell warehouse, causing Cameron to draw his men back, but they quickly returned to their positions. A few minutes later, Cameron gave the order to turn on the hoses. At about the same time the first blast occurred, blowing the 13 firemen to pieces.
Chief Cameron, pipeman Sam Ash, ladderman P. J. Norling, and pipeman Dave Moses did not have enough remains to justify individual caskets, so the four men’s remains were placed in a single casket and buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery.
The funeral for the firefighters was a grand one, with the procession beginning at City Hall, where the fire department was located. The Montana National Guard along with Governor Rickards headed the procession, while firemen from other cities acted as pallbearers for the victims walking alongside the hearses. The Veteran Firemen’s Association was next in line, followed by the hook and ladder truck with Dave Magee, one of two firefighters to survive the fire, then thousands of union men, trailed by members of various fraternal societies. Next in line were city and county officials, brought up by two bands. As the procession reached the gates of Mount Moriah Cemetery, some people were just leaving Broadway Street to start the journey down Montana Street. Upon arrival at the cemetery, the troops presented arms on each side of the road as the cortege proceeded to the gravesites. A short service was held over the bodies of the four men buried together.