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90 years of hot spots

BURBANK -- Even before Burbank officially became a city, a handful of

men organized a volunteer force to fight fires and protect the lives and

property of the fewer than 1,000 people who made the town their home.

Long before the time of rescue ambulances, the jaws of life or even

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fire trucks, the volunteers doused flames with the one major piece of

equipment at their disposal -- a single hose cart.

After Burbank’s incorporation in 1911, the fire department began to

grow along with the city. Within 20 years fire hydrants were located

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around Burbank, a radio dispatch was established and the first paid

fireman -- who was also a desk sergeant for the police department -- had

been hired. In 1927 the Burbank Fire Department was established as an

official city agency. Homer Davis was named the first chief.

By 1939, 19 firefighters were working out of three fire stations in

Burbank, said retired Fire Captain Herb Hinthorne, who joined the

department that year at the age of 21.

“The living conditions were pretty primitive,” Hinthorne, 81, said.

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“Our building was actually about 25-feet wide and was between 50- and

60-feet long.”

The firefighters shared their quarters with the equipment they used --

except for then-Station 1 on Olive Avenue. The two-story building served

as the department’s headquarters.

Hinthorne said he and his fellow firefighters fought their share of

life-threatening and stubborn blazes during their careers but the one

that sticks in his mind was a fire at the King Cole Market in June 1948.

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The Verdugo Avenue market went up early in the morning on June 6.

Hinthorne, who was working out of Station 4 at Burbank Boulevard and

Lincoln Street (now Station 14) was cutting holes in the roof alongside

several other firefighters when the roof collapsed. Hinthorne dropped

about three or four feet and was able to scramble to safety. Another

firefighter fell about a dozen feet where he was left dangling from his

hose. His backup used the hose to lift him out of the burning building.

Hinthorne doesn’t recall the name of the firefighter, just that he

wasn’t injured and that they were all lucky that day.

“It got hot enough that the front wall bowed out about three feet,” he

said. “They had to stop working on that side.”

One change Hinthorne has been happy to see is the use of masks and air

bottles to protect against smoke inhalation -- a safety feature not

available when he started. “You’d go in, hold your breath, do the best

you could and fight the fire,” he said. “I taught myself how to breathe

very shallow... The equipment today is so much better than what we had,”

he added.

Milestones for the department include the hiring of the city’s first

female firefighter, Kelly Morris, who started in October 1997. Earlier

this year, the department celebrated the opening of the Burbank Police

and Fire Museum at the Police and Fire Department Headquarters. The

$30-million headquarters opened in January 1998.

The Burbank Fire Department now has more than 135 employees, including

119 firefighters -- 24 of whom are also paramedics -- working out of six

fire stations.

Since its beginning, the Fire Department has battled thousands of

blazes and its share of natural disasters. Here are three of the major

emergencies that confronted Burbank firefighters.

THE CASTAWAY

On June 29, 1993, Burbank’s landmark restaurant on a hill, The

Castaway, was destroyed by a fire that the Burbank Fire Department said

was started deliberately.

The Leader reported that witnesses saw a person with a gas can and gun

in his car in a parking lot near The Castaway about the time the fire

started. That man was questioned but no no arrests were ever made.

Firefighters arriving at 3:28 a.m. to the already fully-engulfed

restaurant found the front doors unlocked and the burglar alarm going

off. Evidence at the scene indicated that an accelerant may have been

poured in an area of the restaurant that had no fire sprinklers.

The fire gutted the main kitchen, bar and dining room, Damage was

estimated at roughly $1.2 million.

COLUMBIA RANCH

In 1970, fires broke out three times at the Columbia Pictures Ranch on

Hollywood Way and Oak Street damaging several movie and television sets.

Two of the fires were blamed on arson. The last one, reported on Aug.

10, was reportedly started in the home of a “new” television series

called “The Partridge Family,” causing $200,000 in damage.

COUNTRY CLUB DRIVE FLOOD

After a heavy rain, mud and water rushed down Country Club Drive on

Nov. 9, 1964 causing an estimated $300,000 damage and claiming the life

of Aimee Miller.

Soil on the hillside was loose because of a fire the previous year and

the rain brought the mud crashing down the street and into Miller’s home.

The torrent swept right through the home, tearing out walls and carrying

Miller, her husband, William, and much of their belongings hundreds of

yards down Country Club Drive.

Firefighters lowered ropes down a 50-foot cliff to reach William

Miller and the couple’s daughter, Meredith, escaped the raging waters by

scrambling up a hillside next to the house. Aimee Miller’s body was found

the next afternoon among debris in a flood channel.

The extensive damage led Burbank to be declared a state disaster area.


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