Fire breaks out in downtown Pasco, destroying several buildings and killing a high school student on December 8, 1919.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 5/04/2008
  • Essay 8605

On the evening of December 8, 1919, the worst fire in Pasco's history breaks out in the Pasco Drug Store. It soon spreads to the Bank of Pasco and to the adjacent U.S. Post Office building and eventually destroys six buildings. A 16-year-old employee of the drug store perishes in the blaze.

To Fix a Furnace

Roy Van Ness, 16, was working at the Pasco Drug Store when he apparently went down into the basement to fix a balky furnace at about 8:30 p.m. Soon afterward, an explosion occurred which could be heard blocks away. Flames immediately engulfed the drug store and then spread to the adjacent Bank of Pasco, the U.S. Post Office, and several other buildings in the  block. 

Firefighters searched in vain for Van Ness. The fire was out of control and a stiff breeze fanned the flames. The fire was still burning the next morning. All of the buildings were a total loss and all of the mail in the Post Office was destroyed. The bank president promised a rapid rebuilding, but some of the burned areas weren't rebuilt for two more decades. 

Van Ness had been working at the drug store after school for two years. He was a student in the high school and a member of the band.

Sources: "Youth Perishes in Pasco Blaze," Spokesman-Review, December 9, 1919; "Fire Losses about $36,000," Spokesman-Review, December 13, 1919.

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