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Fire in Hilt

HILT, Calif. -- It's been almost seven months since the Boles Fire nearly leveled the Siskiyou County town of Weed. It was a little over 90 years ago that a similar fire almost leveled another Siskiyou

Posted: Apr. 14, 2015 6:04 PM
Updated: Oct. 19, 2017 1:38 PM

HILT, Calif. -- It's been almost seven months since the Boles Fire nearly leveled the Siskiyou County town of Weed. It was a little over 90 years ago that a similar fire almost leveled another Siskiyou County town.

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It's likely that when fire roared through the south Siskiyou County town of Weed last September, there were few former Hilt residents who remembered when their town almost burned to the ground as well, 90 years earlier. According to witnesses, that fire broke out on June 9th, 1924 at an apartment house behind the old Sunkist Hotel.

That account says, "It burned very fast, and in one hour’s time, the apartments, the hotel, garage stalls for the hotel and ten cottages were leveled. There was very little water with which to fight the fire because when a building burned the water pipes broke and the water pressure dropped with each new break. The Southern Pacific stopped all rail traffic and sent an engine from Hornbrook which pumped water on the depot and company store. The S.P. let fruit growers' engines on their tracks and two of them pumped water on the buildings."

He goes on to say that a bucket brigade and volunteers swinging soaking wet gunny sacks beat back spot fires, and the store, post office, and mill office were saved.

“My grandmother's brother was the one that dynamited one of the houses that tried to break the fire cycle! And they lost 12 houses on the thing, the hotel, and plus, in back there was garages back in there and they lost them, too,” said Jerry Lehman, a former Hilt resident and historian.

According to the Ashland Tidings: "An east wind was blowing and swept the blaze full across the town, taking the board buildings before firefighting equipment could be mobilized."

Calls for aid were sent out to the Ashland Fire Chief, and to the Southern Pacific. A light locomotive from Hornbrook and 500 feet of hose were sent up to Hilt. And by pumping water from the engine onto the roof of a warehouse, the Tidings says the fire was kept from spreading to stacks of dry lumber and the box factory.

Logging locomotives helped shuttle water from the mill pond. It's estimated some 600 people pitched in to fight the flames. One woman asleep in her home was badly burned when her roof caved in, and a man fell from a roof fighting the fire, but was not badly hurt.  People in Hornbrook opened their homes to the fire refugees, and since the houses were owned by fruit growers, were all insured. The damage was estimated at $100,000 in 1924 dollars.

The fire in 1924 almost wiped out the town and the mill. In 1925, another fire came along and destroyed several more buildings. But it wasn't until 1973 that Hilt came to an end. That's when the company shut down its operation, tore down most of the houses, and closed down the mill.

"It was a wonderful place to raise children. And the rent was very low. I mean, when I left in 1973 outa there, the rent at that time was $33 dollars a month! Now, if you broke a window, they fixed it! Your garbage was free,” said former Hilt resident Tony Marin.

"We always said they did us a favor. Where we'd a probably stayed there and retired and never had no home or nothing, when we moved over here, and several moved down south, and up over in Klamath Falls, they were all over the country,” said former Hilt resident Italo Marin.

Hilt continued to grow after the 1924 fire, and today, every year on the first Sunday of August, former residents and their families gather for a reunion picnic to share memories and recall the old days.

This year's Hilt Reunion Picnic is August 2nd at the Klamath River Country Estates, near Hornbrook.

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