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January 18, 2019

12/26/2018 2:17:00 PM
Firefighters Remember Deadly 1905 Inferno
Fire Chief Brian Scott addresses the fighters and supporters of the Evanston Fire Department who gathered to remember fallen firefighters.             RoundTable photo

Fire Chief Brian Scott addresses the fighters and supporters of the Evanston Fire Department who gathered to remember fallen firefighters.            
RoundTable photo

By Mary Helt Gavin

On Dec. 13, the Evanston Fire Department held a ceremony of remembrance for William Craig and George Stiles, members of the Evanston Fire Department who were killed in the fire at the Clayton Mark manufacturing plant on Dec. 13, 1905.

About 50 people, including two great-grandchildren of Mr. Stiles, gathered at Evanston Plaza, the site of the former wrought-iron pipe factory. Fire Chief Brian Scott told the story of the fire and the casualties:

Crude oil leaking from a pipe in the mill’s socket room had ignited, but the 200 employees in the building were safely evacuated, even before the firefighters arrived. Because the factory was on the outskirts of town, water pressure was low and direct pressure from hydrants was ineffective. 

Fire drove back the men, led by Thomas Norman, who were trying to gain entry to the mill from the north side of the building, but the crew at the southwest corner of the building, led by acting assistant company officer George Stiles, was able to direct a stream of water through the doorway onto the fire. An interior explosion caused the south wall to totter.  Mr. Stiles ordered his crew to evacuate the area, but a second explosion from within caused a wall to collapse onto the firefighters. Both Mr. Stiles and Mr. Craig were buried under burning debris. Mr. Craig died shortly after he was taken to St. Francis Hospital; Mr. Stiles was pronounced dead on arrival.

Three other firefighters, Thomas Watson, Edward Johnson and Jack Eckberg, were also injured in the fire, which destroyed more than $100,000 of property.

Fire Chaplain David Jones said, “We are standing on holy ground,” because of the actions and deaths of the firefighters that day 113 years ago. “Thank God for people who do this work today,” he said.

Chief Scott thanked the people who attended the ceremony, including Patty Piron and Ron Ipjian, Mr. Stiles’s descendants. The actions the firemen took in fighting the blaze and helping their injured colleagues, “make you think of how we treat each other,” Chief Scott said.

Lou Tenuta and Frank Chilelli, who own the shopping center and its anchor tenant, Valli Produce, have said they will place a memorial plaque in the plaza for the firefighters.

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