Valentine’s Day blaze pushed village to create a volunteer fire company

PHOTO PROVIDED The Pass General Store burns to the ground as snow continues to fall, stopping fire companies from making it to the scene on time. The photo was taken by Aldrich Smith of Trout Run and published in “History of Lewis Township, Lycoming Pennsylvania,” by Beatrice and James Remick.

TROUT RUN — On a snow-covered Valentine’s Day in 1940, a raging fire worked its way through Main Street here, leaving 34 people homeless and the village’s center of commerce devastated.

Early in the morning of Feb. 14, 1940, a fire started in the boiler room of the Trout Run Hotel, according to the Gazette and Bulletin, a forerunner to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Caroline Crist, who worked for the hotel, discovered the fire after smelling smoke in the kitchen. By the time she found the source of the smoke, the boiler room was completely in flames.

“We didn’t have a fire company at the time,” said Beatrice Remick, co-author of “The History of Lewis Township, Lycoming Pennsylvania.” “I think it was one of the biggest events in Trout Run’s history because it burned down the whole Main Street.”

Five people rushed to the scene, attempting to put out the flames with fire extinguishers shortly after Crist’s discovery in the boiler room. According to the Gazette and Bulletin, before the blaze could be stifled, a strong wind carried the flames to other parts of the building.

The Loyalsock Volunteer Fire Co., Williamsport Co. No. 2 and Canton Volunteer Fire Co. responded to the call, but as local highways were covered in deep snow drifts, the village fire had time to spread.

The flames quickly moved from the 60-year-old Trout Run Hotel and the attatched barber shop, to the Pass General Store, the local Post Office and the Parker Apartments and telephone exchange.

Six families lived in the buildings that were affected by the flames, and 10 people were living in the hotel at the time. As the flames spread to the residences, neighbors came out in droves to help the victims get their belongings out of their apartments. It was reported that 75 percent of the furniture was saved from the homes and no injuries or deaths were related to the fire.

“People were trying to take over as much as they could to the other side of the street,” Remick said. “From the pictures I had and the people I talked to, there was a lot of response. You can see women out on Mill Street trying to save as much as they could. Quite a few people lived on that street.”

According to Remick, the first company to arrive at the scene was the Loyalsock Volunteer Fire Co. Williamsport Co. No. 2 sent a firetruck by train to Trout Run, which arrived some time after Loyalsock.

“Due to the weather and the roads, the best thing they could do was bring the engine up on the train,” Remick said.

By 11 a.m., the fire had been extinguished. According to Remick, losses were estimated at more than $70,000. The Gazette and Bulletin wrote that those who were left homeless after the destruction took up residence with neighbors.

Due to the time it took for fire companies to make it to Trout Run, the Valentines Day fire was instrumental in pushing the village to create its own fire department. The first vehicle donated to the department was a Buick car in 1943, and the locals fitted it with a pump.