The Fire of 1947
Seventy-four years ago, this month Goose Rocks Beach and Cape Porpoise were devastated by the 1947 Fire. In recognition of National Fire Prevention Week, instead of my usual Throwback Thursday historical ramblings I’d like to share a gripping first-hand account of the aftermath of the fire written by Eliot, Shirley, June, and Desmond O’Hara just days after they lost their Goose Rocks Beach home and art school to the Fire of ’47.
“Eliot, Shirley, and June had closed up all the buildings and reached New York, when Desmond called us from Tufts College at midnight, Tuesday, October 21st, saying that he had just heard on the radio that the O’Hara School had been burnt to the ground. He drove up there that morning and we, that afternoon. We found the woods still ablaze in many places and the roads choked with smoke and blocked by National Guard, except to a few with passes. Through the murk we made out that the only one of our three chimneys still standing was that of the Student House. Except for twisted pipes, bedsteads and cement posts there wasn’t even much rubble. The deep layers of ashes were still hot. Smoke poured from the trees of Timber Island.
Desmond, the Fred Smiths and the Annises were quartered in the only remaining house on the ocean side of our end of the beach, that of Dot Mignault. … Thanks to Dot’s quickness in grabbing an extinguisher when a branch fell on her back porch, and perhaps the very swiftness of the wind, her house escaped.
Here is our pieced-together story of that Tuesday at Goose Rocks. At noon, on October 21st, Fred Smith was doing errands in Biddeford and the forest fires did not seem threatening. He drove home and had lunch with his wife, Dot. Suddenly the wind whipped in from the northwest, and blew a 50-60 mile gale straight toward Goose Rocks. By 3:30, all our end of the beach was a devastated region. Fred and Dot and Mr. Nimmo managed to drive 5 cars on the Sand Point. Mr. Nimmo rushed through the smoke to help the women and children huddled in the tidal river at the point, with wet blankets over their heads. Fred doused the blazing grass around the 5 cars with extinguishers and saved them and himself with only a few scorches. Mrs. Seidel, Mrs. Henchley, Mrs. Young and others crouched in the water, as did the Annises and Dorothy Mignault.
Mr. Ireland, Fire Chief of Goose Rocks, stuck to his job and didn’t even see his fine home burn. Fred and Dot Smith, besides losing all their houses, had a greater worry. You may have read “Three children missing.” One of these was 11-year-old Mimi Smith, who wasn’t located till 1 AM that night. When 3 o’clock school bus from Kennebunkport was blocked by flames, a farm neighbor, Mrs. Chick, rescued the three children who lived at Goose Rocks, Mimi and two youngsters of Arch Smith, Barbara’s little sisters. A Red Cross ambulance called for them after rumor located them. “It was heaps of fun at the farm,” said Mimi.
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