This month marks the 100th anniversary of one of Antigo’s most devastating fires.
On the early morning of January 6, 1916, fire destroyed the Antigo High School complex on the site of today’s middle school. The tragic event caused uncertainty about the future of about 600 students and destroyed the school and school records.
Shortly after 3 a.m. on that fateful day, an employee of the nearby Antigo gas plant noticed the school burning after hearing a violent explosion. He contacted night policeman Louis Porter who turned in the alarm. Firemen discovered the third story in the northeast corner of the school ablaze upon arrival. Within 10 minutes, flames had spread throughout the rest of the structure.
The temperature was 22 degrees below zero, and a strong wind whipped shingles and other pieces of building material from the raging fire, sending them crashing onto homes and yards as far as Eighth Avenue and Field Street, creating challenges for residents and firefighters.
Elwin Billings, the fire chief at the time of the fire, stated that the battle was hopeless when they arrived at the school. Streams of water were directed to protect adjacent buildings, but firemen suffered from extreme cold and freezing equipment.
The cause of the fire was never determined, since so much of the building had been destroyed in the blaze.
School officials said it was fortunate that the fire occurred during the building’s idle hours because of the speed at which it spread, which could have resulted in many deaths.
The main immediate focus following the blaze was maintaining a class schedule and building a replacement school. Serving as temporary classrooms were the Episcopal Church, the Congregational church, other churches, the Opera House, city hall, the county courthouse, and basements of elementary schools.
(Information was obtained from Vern Cahak’s book “Antigo Fire Department, a 20th Century Saga of Progress”.)