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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.

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A guard of police officers, military police, state highway patrolmen and guards from the Utah ordnance plant immediately blocked off traffic and held early morning workers from crowding too near the theater.

Firemen played streams of water into the fire from all directions, including from the tops of neighboring buildings.

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For nearly an hour it appeared that the flames might spread to near-by buildings, but firemen were able to keep them confined to the theater.

Residents of the St. George hotel, 40 East Broadway, which occupies the front portion of the theater building, were taken from their rooms, but at no time did the flames actually reach the hotel quarters.

A driveway, separating Keith O’Brien, Inc., 56 E. Broadway, from the burning structure, enabled firemen to keep the blaze from spreading to the east and the west fire walls protected the building occupied by the Paris company, 28 E. Broadway.

The flames were brought under control within two hours after the blaze was discovered, but timbers were still smoldering in the late evening.

Rumors at the scene were prevalent until early afternoon that other firemen were missing and believed trapped in the building, but an official check-up, completed by early afternoon, showed only three deaths.

Chief of Police Vetterli said more than 50 officers were called out to rope off the crowds and assist the firemen. Shortly after 9 a.m., when the balcony caved in, three ambulances were ordered to the scene to "stand by" in case of emergency.

Bodies Recovered

The body of Fireman Christenson was the first recovered from the debris. Soon thereafter the bodies of Lieutenant Hatch and Fireman Johnson were removed.

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Neighboring stores were closed by firemen and city officials until the dangers of the blaze had subsided. Chief Hanson said smoke loss to other buildings and stocks undoubtedly resulted.

However, officials of the Paris company late Wednesday said there was no damage done to their store or stock. The store was closed Wednesday until danger of the west wall of the theater building falling in had passed. The officials explained that the store will be open as soon as this wall can be torn down.

The Auerbach company and Keith O’Brien, Inc., were opened for business Wednesday afternoon, but were closed during the morning hours.

The Jo-Days’ Beauty salon, Economy shoe store and Hughes apparel shop, all in the same building as the theater, were closed all day.

Work of razing the theater walls was begun Wednesday afternoon, and crews were scheduled to work during the night in an effort to remove the menace of the weak shell.

The theater, owned by the Brooks company, was constructed more than 20 years ago. Representatives of the company Wednesday said they could give no definite estimate of the damage until investigation is completed.

Theater Was Closed

The theater had been closed during the past week for renovation. Nine employees were in the structure. Gene Birch of 3594 Seventh East Street, one of the workmen, reported he walked through the theater to the stage about 8 a.m. and about 20 minutes later he and the others smelled smoke.

Opening a door leading from the state go the auditorium, the men saw the blaze and rushed from the building immediately to turn in the alarm.

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

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