5/17/1923 a fire during closing day ceremonies at Grover Cleveland School in Sandy Mill, Kershaw County (Beulah) South Carolina left seventy-seven dead when “a lamp fell from the ceiling onto the stage of the second-floor hall where the play was being held causing the burning oil to ignite the straw and oilcloth used as set decorations. A long-standing custom on graduation night students would perform production or play to celebrate the conclusion of the school year. A crowd of some 300 people was in attendance in the school auditorium located on the second floor. The number of occupants attending exceeded the capacity of the auditorium. Electricity was not available in rural areas of the state; lighting was provided by oil lamps hanging on nails. Around 9:00 p.m. during the last act of the play, a lamp fell from the wall spilling the lamp oil on the stage. The fire spread rapidly. The crowded audience began to orderly move towards the stairs evacuate the building. The flames continued to spread and reached the stage curtains. The curtains were flammable and contained no fire-retardant rating. The fire extended over all the stage and across the ceiling. Conditions deteriorated rapidly. “Frantic parents tripped over chairs attempting to reach their children gathered near the stage area while others pushed and shoved their way toward the school’s only narrow stairway.” Panic began to take over, some patrons opened windows and jumped 15 to 20 feet. Accounts suggest that some family members tried to reenter the building to find their loved ones. “Those who successfully reentered the structure ultimately lost their lives.” The stairs began to fail, and the second floor collapsed into the first floor. Eventually, an alarm of fire was transmitted by word of mouth to the Camden Fire Department some 6 miles away. The fire department sounded the alarm to muster the volunteer firefighters and deployed a 1920 model Seagrave engine having only 300 gallons of water on board. “When the fire department arrived, little could be done to help those trapped in the remains of the old school.” “State and National codes were changed and adopted requiring adequate exits or exterior fire escapes, alarm systems, fire retardant materials and contents, capacity guidelines, improved lighting and heating installations, portable fire extinguishers, and mandated exit drills. The law requires every school district principal in the State to verify that fire drills have been conducted school throughout the year.”
5/18/1849 a Saint Louis, MO firefighter died during a conflagration. “Around 9:00 p.m. a fire alarm sounded in St. Louis. The paddle-wheeled steamboat White Cloud on the river at the foot of Cherry Street was on fire. The Fire Department with nine hand engines and hose reel wagons promptly responded. The moorings holding the boat burned through and the burning steamboat drifted slowly down the Mississippi River, setting 22 other steamboats and several flatboats and barges on fire. Flames leaped from the burning steamboats to buildings on the shore and were soon burning everything on the waterfront levee for four blocks. The fire extended to Main Street westward and crossing Olive Street. It completely gutted the three blocks between Olive and 2nd Street and went as far south as Market Street. It then ignited a large copper shop three blocks away and burned out two more city blocks. The firefighters, after laboring for eight hours, were nearly completely demoralized and exhausted. The entire business district of the city appeared doomed unless something was done. Six businesses in front of the fire were loaded with kegs of black powder and blown up in succession. The firefighter died while he was spreading powder into Phillips Music store, the last store selected to be blown up.”
5/17/1920 an Oakland, CA firefighter “died from the injuries he sustained after he had fallen from a ladder after it had collapsed at the Zinkland Restaurant Fire.”
5/17/1932 a Manhattan, New York (FDNY) firefighter “died as a result of the serious smoke inhalation he sustained the previous day while operating at a three-alarm sub-cellar fire.”
5/17/1945 a Chicago, IL firefighter “was fatally injured while fighting a fire at 1474 Milwaukee Avenue, Marvel Products manufacturing plant. He was overcome by smoke and revived on the scene, but minutes later he collapsed and fell off the fire apparatus, striking his head on the sidewalk and suffering a fatal skull fracture.”
5/17/1970 a Brooklyn, New York (FDNY) firefighter died from injuries he sustained while operating at an alarm.
5/17/1971 a Mobile, AL firefighter “died while battling a fire in the basement of Scott Paper Company. He re-entered the basement which was packed full of bales of scrap paper. The basement was full of thick smoke and he died when his air supply ran out.”
5/17/1975 a Scio, OR firefighter “died as a result of injuries sustained March 16th, when he received a severe electrical shock while operating at the scene of a motor vehicle accident.”
5/17/1985 Flagler County, Florida “experienced devastating wildfires known as the Black Friday Fires. At that time, these fires were the biggest disaster in Flagler County history where two fires consumed 24,055 acres and caused widespread damage. There were other communities throughout Florida including areas of St. Johns and Volusia that were affected however, Flagler County was the hardest hit of all the counties overwhelmed with wildfires on that fateful day that ravaged thousands of acres throughout the state.”
5/17/1994 a fire in an overcrowded Honduras prison killed 103 people. An overheated refrigerator motor sparked the fire that extended through the outdated jail. “Only a year earlier, a gang fight at the same prison had left nearly 70 people dead. The prison, in San Pedro Sula, 100 miles north of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, was largely devoted to housing gang members arrested in a recent crackdown. This new emphasis on jailing gang members resulted in a prison population of nearly 2,000, although the structure was built to accommodate only 800. The fire and explosion took place in a cell block that housed 186 prisoners belonging to the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13. The fire started in one of two small refrigerators located in the cell block at about 1:30 a.m. Guards reported that they had to fire their guns in the air to keep the prisoners from attacking the firefighters and escaping. Inmates claimed that the guards were preventing the prisoners from fleeing the fire.”
5/17/2009 Bonham, TX an apartment fire killed a woman and two girls.
5/17/1849 a fire destroyed the Centrum in St. Louis Missouri.