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Read The Tribune’s story on the 1943 Victory theater fire
Archives » Three Salt Lake City firefighters died in the blaze.
First Published May 18 2013 11:28 pm • Last Updated May 18 2013 11:28 pm

Editors note: The Salt Lake City Fire Department is leading a memorial Sunday for the 70th anniversary of the blaze that killed three firefighters at the Victory theater. Here is the Tribune’s report on that fire, published on May 20, 1943. The article did not have a byline.

The banner headline read: $100,000 Fire Takes 3 Lives. The subhead read: Flames Destroy S.L. Theater; Nine Men Hurt

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Trapped under failing debris during the height of one of Salt Lake City’s most devastating downtown fires, three firemen were killed and at least nine others injured Wednesday morning when flames reduced the Victory theater, 48 East Broadway, to a charred shell of teetering walls.

Damage was estimated at between $75,000 and $100,000 from the holocaust, which brought every available piece of equipment from the local fire department to the scene and resulted in auxiliary firemen and police being called to assist in extinguishing the flames and holding the crowds away from the building. First alarm was received at the fire alarm office at 8:24 a.m.

The dead:

Lieutenant Melvin L. Hutch, 2259 Highland Drive.

First Grade Fireman Harry Christenson, 245 Coatsville Avenue.

Third Grade Fireman Theron D. Johnson, 2248 Lake Street.

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The three firemen were trapped while playing a hose into the blazing interior of the building from inside the foyer near the entrance to the auditorium. The balcony and second floor of the structure caved, trapping the men.

Fire Chief LaVere M. Hanson, who also was in the foyer at the time, said: "We heard their groans, but we were unable to reach them and make a rescue."

Assistant Chief Hurt

Assistant Fire Chief Lloyd B. Egan and Captain A. R. Ward were taken from the building after the cave-in. Chief Egan, overcome by smoke, and his eyes gravely irritated, was rushed to the Salt Lake police emergency hospital, while Captain Ward, who was burned on the hands and face, was taken to the LDS hospital.

Fireman Luther A. Stroud, 755 Post Street, was struck by a falling pipe and other debris while attempting to extricate the three fatally injured firemen.

One of the most seriously Injured was Lieutenant William A. Limb, who suffered a back injury when he fell from a ladder. Others injured included Acting Lieutenant Evan H. Hansen, 1616 Edison Street, first and second degree burns on his right hand and left ankle, and overcome by fumes while attempting to free the trio; Fireman F. E. McKinnon, 953 Denver Street, overcome by fumes and irritated eyes. Fireman George R. Kilpatrick, 853 Montague Avenue, right shoulder bruised by falling debris; Fireman Glen D. Crowther, severely sprained left ankle, and Fireman Elmer H. Hansen, 1763 South Second East street, bruises and eye irritation.

Chief Hanson said the fire started near the orchestra pit in the main auditorium and flashed into a major conflagration within a very few minutes.

Probe Under Way

The origin was not immediately determined, but Chief Hanson announced that "there definitely is no sign of incendiarism or arson."Before embers stopped smoldering Wednesday afternoon an official three-man investigating committee had been appointed from the police and fire departments and the national board of fire underwriters to make a complete investigation.

Chief of Police Reed E. Vetterli appointed Detective W. E. Eggleston to work with Investigator James O. Carver of the fire department and S. R. Waugh, special investigator of the national board of fire underwriters.

By the time all equipment had rolled up to the scene, flames were shooting nearly 100 feet skyward, and billows of smoke could be seen for miles.

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Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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