09/05/10 1399 W, 6 I - + 20 - 13 Extra Alarmer, Minneapolis Fire Department, The Thanksgiving Fire of 1982

There's a nifty newsletter that's published by the Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities. Called The Extra Alarmer, it's a 12-page piece in black and white, that's published every other month. They've been publishing for over 28 years. Learn more, and see a sample issue. I've been subscribing for a few years now, and it's a great for staying in touch with happenings in my hometown.


In the latest issue, Co-Publisher Steve Skaar continues his recollections of 50 years of fire buffing with memories of the Minneapolis Big One, AKA the Thanksgiving Day Fire of 1982. Here's hopefully a coherent summary of what happened, from Skaar's account, Google News Archives, and other sources on the web.

November 25, 1982. Thanksgiving Day. Just after 5:00 p.m. Minneapolis Fire Department dispatched to Box 110 Bravo, at former site of Donaldson's department store, six stories and under demolition. One-third of the structure is still standing. Engines 10, 6, 1, Ladders 1, 11, and Battalion 1 on the initial dispatch at 17:06 hours.

Arrive units find what Skaar describes as a "huge outdoor debris fire" that's burning into the remaining sections of the Donaldson's structure. That building is adjacent to the 16-story Northwestern National Bank building. The three engines "each dumped their tanks through their deluge pipes" as crews worked to connect to the nearby hydrants. Seven minutes, a second alarm is called, as crews aren't able to knock down the flames. Two engines and third ladder are dispatched, along with another Battalion Chief, the Deputy Chief, the Mobile Command Post, and the salvage unit.

Wells Fargo Museum

Six minutes later, a third alarm was summoned. Fourth and fifth alarms followed quickly, along with four engines special called, along with Hose 10 and Big Red. The latter was an ex-Army 1958 Walter crash truck that MFD placed in service in 1976 as Foam-Hose 1. It was rebuilt with a 1500 GPM pump, and outfitted with a pair of big honkin' Stang monitors in the rear. We blogged about that truck, after photographing same in Minneapolis a few years back. See those photos.

There were fire doors between the Donaldson's building and the bank building, located in the basement and on the fifth floor. But they'd been burned through, as the fire reached an estimated temperature of 1,600 degrees. Flames spread to the bank building, and soon fires were visible inside the 16-story structure. Exposure protection was directed to the second-floor skyways, which were enclosed pedestrian bridges that connected the bank building with other structures. As Skaar recalls, "windows on buildings across the street cracked and some broke out from the intense heat."

Wells Fargo Museum 

He cites stunning statistics. Minneapolis engines pumped 39 separate lines. At the height of the incident, 17 of 20 the city's engines, and eight ladders were working. Six aerials supplied ladder pipes (1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 11), and master streams were deployed from Foam-Hose 1, Hose 10, and others. Total of 15 on that. Alas, they didn't stop the spread of the fire through the building. However, all exposures were protected, and the fire did not spread into other structures. An even greater conflagration was averted. (Reported the next day's news reports, smoke penetrated the J.C. Penny store and parts of the IDS tower, the tallest building i the city.)

The department was a bit short-staffed due to the holiday, recounts Charles Riggs in this Guided by History blog entry. They were joined 50 off-duty members, who responded to the scene. All off-duty personnel were recalled that day, either to the scene, or staff other stations. Three St. Paul companies also assisted in coverage, reported the news, and equipment from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was brought to the scene.

Fire Chief Clarence Nimmerfroh was out of town, Skaar recalls, and Asst. Chief Allan Wold took command at the scene. In addition to spare apparatus called to the fire, crews brought Ladder 11's new Sutphen tower to the scene from the repair shops. An interior attack on the bank building was started by 8:00 p.m., recounts Riggs.

The fire was placed under control nearly exactly 12 hours later at 04:59 hours Friday morning. Numerous pieces of apparatus as well as hose lines and firefighters were covered in thick coats of ice. The temperature that night was around five degrees,  recorded by the Farmer's Almanac. Ten firefighters were treated at nearby Hennepin County Medical Center. Nine were released, but one suffered chest pains and was kept for observation in the coronary care unit.

The blaze covered a full square-block of the Nicollet Mall, which is a 13-block pedestrian mall that's the main shopping area down town. Guests in the nearby Marquette Inn, located inside the IDS Tower, were evacuated.

Crews would remain on scene for several days. The damage totaled $100 million, which was a jaw-dropper, given, as Skaar notes, the annual fire loss in the city at the time was in the $5-6 million range. Safe deposit boxes and securities vaults were not damaged, reported the bank's president the next day.

The building was built in 1930, by the architecture firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. The structural damage from the fire was so severe, that the building was demolished. It was imploded on March 11, 1983. The building collapsed into a pile of rubble in just 15 seconds.

Investigators would subsequently determine the cause of fire as arson. They arrested two boys, aged 12 and 13. The two had crawled through a hole in the snow fence around the property, and climbed up the debris pile to reach the open second floor. They played for a time and then ignited a butane torch, which started the fire.


Wells Fargo Museum    

Dispatch Details

From the Minneapolis Extra Alarm Fires Details Chart

Thursday, November 25, 1982 - 5-5 Alarm

5:00 p.m. - Box 110B - 6th Street & Nicollet Avenue - Commercial Buildings (Under Demolition/Occupied)

Time   Alarm Engines   Ladders Squads   Others   Chiefs
1706      Telephone Alarm 10-6-1      1-11              Bat 1
1713   2-2 Alarm 16-4   4     Mobile Command Post, Salvage   Bat 4, Deputy Chief
1719   3-3 Alarm 11-8   9         Asst. Chief
1733   4-4 Alarm 7   5          
1735   5-5 Alarm 2   3      
1815   Sp. Call 19-21         Big Red, Hose 10
1844   Sp. Call 14          
1942   Sp. Call 13          
2215   Relief 27-20   7      
2236   Relief 17-15   2      
    -- Nov. 26, 1982 --        
0021   Relief 12-28          
0130   Relief     6      
0136   Relief     10      
0144   Relief Spare 1-Spare 19   8      
0304   Relief Spare 6          
0407   Relief Spare 4          
0422   Relief Spare 21          
0459   Fire Under Control        
0745   Relief 10          
0800   Relief 6          
0822   Relief 2-4          
1040   Relief 28-21          
1110   Relief 14          
1140   Relief Spare 21          
1239   Relief     6      
1317   Relief 8-1   7      
1522   Relief 11          
1625   Relief 20-17          
1649   Relief     1      
1930   Relief     9      
1945   Relief 15          
2200   Relief 16          
2245   Relief 27   8-2      
    -- Nov. 27, 1982 --        
0050   Relief 27          
0146   Relief 7   5      
0446   Relief 2-4          
0548   Relief 11          
    0759 Nov. 27 to 0530 Nov. 28 Four Engines   Four Ladders  
    0755 to 1417 on Nov. 28 Six Engines   Three Ladders  
    -- Nov. 29, 1982 --        
1803   Relief 10          
    -- Nov. 30, 1982        
0818   Relief (last) 10          


Dear MSP fire Department, I was at this fire back in 1982! I remember this fire vividly, It started on the Southeast corner of the JC Penny building and progressed rapidly to the northwest of the complex!
I and my brother were in the Observation deck of the IDS building watching this fire. I remember while watching this fire happening the two buildings that encompassed the square block, (looking down from atop the IDS), the overhead walk ways above the streets billowing with smoke and also watching it devouring the JC Penny’s building.

Upon my view from my stand point, the JC Pennys’ building was a square structure, but along side JC’s was the NW Bank with the icon of the Weather Ball that had stood for many of years. This weather ball when traveling into Minneapolis it gave the us the a clue of what the weather was forecast within the day or two!

I remember watching this fire and again encompassing the NW Bank and watching the Weather Ball exploding!

What was very strange about this day is that there was no wind, nothing! As I was watching this catastrophe happening the embers of the fire were streaming straight up. The sparks, embers were again, billowing up to and above the IDS Building, it was so unreal, but true! after about 2 hours the Chief of the Minneapolis Fire Department came up to observation deck and ordered every out, pronto!
They were scared that this fire could escalate further!

I swear to God this happened! This is my testimony!

The next day I went back to the IDS Building and took a Photograph of the burt out Building(s)from atop of the IDS!

I still have the Picture from the next day that I took from the IDS Building!
It was a very cold day and night that Nov. 25th of 1982, There were Icicles everywhere!
Deeply and truthfully, Douglas Graham
Douglas Graham (Email) - 11/28/11 - 07:56

Can you post a picture of the top of the building that you took?
Elliot - 04/24/20 - 22:13

Also, itís too bad that they ended up scrapping the weather ball.
Elliot (Email) - 04/24/20 - 22:15

Remember personal info?

/ Textile

Comment moderation is enabled on this site. This means that your comment will not be visible on this site until it has been approved by an editor.

To prevent spam we require you to answer this silly question

  (Register your username / Log in)

Hide email:

Small print: All html tags except <b> and <i> will be removed from your comment. You can make links by just typing the url or mail-address.