The Crowley Signal said it was a wind-driven 'fire fiend' that licked through a big part of Rayne in February 1895.
Said the newspaper, the flames "within a space of two short hours left a dozen buildings in ashes, while the entire business part of the town narrowly escaped total destruction from the fiery elements."
The fire broke out about 10 a.m. and there was a prompt response by townspeople who made "every possible effort to subdue the flames in their incipiency," the newspaper reported. But "the fire had gained considerable headway ... before aid arrived and it needed only the stiff gale to fan it into a flame that in its fierceness threatened destruction to the entire town." Making matters worse, the men fighting the fire had no ladders and little water."
The blaze began in "the extreme northwest" of the business section and was "swiftly swept southward, laying bare a square and a half of business buildings within the hour."
A hundred men from Crowley rushed to the scene on a special train put together by Southern Pacific and, according to the news report, "the relief came none too soon, as many of the Rayneites were almost exhausted."
The Crowley men "went to work with a will" after "realizing the necessity ... of at once stopping the progress of the flames if any of the business portion ... was to be saved." Exerting "an almost superhuman effort," the men finally brought the fire under control.
The fire began in the home of Rev. J.H. Walker, who had moved into the frame building only a week before. "A defective zinc above the flue" was blamed because "flames were already bursting forth from the roof around the chimney" when the fire was discovered. The dry pine house went up quickly but "the citizens who turned out in force found it possible by prompt action to rescue most of the furniture."
Flames jumped from the house to a storage building and a two-story office next door. Then a printing plant next to the office building caught fire.
A "fierce" northwest wind blew the flames across the street, setting afire a "new business building ... which lacked but a few hours work of completion." That's when citizens began to fear that the entire business district was doomed, the fire "sweeping southward with lightning-like rapidity and licking up everything that lay in its course."
When the flames attacked a warehouse, the fire fighters let it burn because they were"fearful of the results that might follow the explosion of oil, powder, and other combustibles." Instead, they focused on "removing ... goods from other buildings which stood in the course of the flames."
The fire burned through a block of town, destroying stores, offices, a restaurant, and several residences, then jumped another street to a livery stable filled with hay. It burned to the ground as the flames spread to a saloon next door. It was there that the "fiery elements were ... cut off by the almost superhuman efforts of those who so gallantly fought the flames, and the fire was within a short while brought under control."
The newspaper estimated the total loss at $30,000--a lot of money in 1895. It was alsoable to happily report that nobody was killed or seriously injured and that all of the stock from the livery stable was saved.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.