A fire on Prescott's famed Whiskey Row destroyed three businesses Tuesday, sending flames and plumes of black smoke into the air as firefighters used three towering ladder trucks to battle it for hours.
All three of the torched businesses - the Bird Cage Saloon, Larry & Hy's Bare Bones BBQ and Prescott Food Store - are located in one building that was erected right after most of the downtown burned to the ground on July 14, 1900.
Dispatchers received a call about smoke coming from the Bird Cage Saloon at about 6:15 p.m. Police officers quickly blocked Montezuma Street to traffic between Goodwin and Gurley Street while firefighters tried to contain the fire, Prescott Police Lt. Andy Reinhardt said.
"When I saw the smoke, I went out back to check the trash bin people put ashes in, but that wasn't it, so I came back, got everyone out, and called 911," said Rochelle Burklund, an employee at the Bird Cage, as she sat across the street watching the fire. "It's horrible."
Hoyt Johnson was sitting at the Bird Cage bar with a half-dozen other patrons at about 6 p.m. when he saw flames coming through the wall above the historic back bar. Someone grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the flames, but then the building started filling with smoke and everyone evacuated, he said.
"Except for the Palace, there is no more historic and iconic saloon on Whiskey Row," Johnson said. "It's like losing a best friend."
Nine engine companies from Prescott Fire, Central Yavapai and Chino Valley fire districts worked together to fight the fire which spread from the Bird Cage Saloon's roof and attic to the Prescott Food Store and Larry & Hy's BBQ restaurant, said Central Yavapai Fire Chief Paul Nies.
Everyone in nearby buildings was evacuated early, and no firefighters were injured in the fire, Nies said.
Native Prescottonian Howard Hinson owns the building. As he watched it go up in flames, he said his father bought it in the late 1960s.
"This is devastating," Hinson's wife Nancy said. "It's just a landmark."
The building was a hardware store before becoming a saloon shortly after Prohibition ended in 1933. It was called Bill's Buffet in the 40s and 50s.
The late Bill Stamm opened the Bird Cage Saloon in 1967, and his son John still owns the business.
The Cage was filled with historic items including an 1872 back bar that came out of a one-time local brothel called the Rex Arms Hotel, Stamm said.
It also housed approximately 200 inanimate birds that gave the saloon its name, including numerous stuffed animals that were more than a century old. Approximately 500 antique ceramic decanters that Bill Stamm collected throughout his life were also covering the Cage walls.
Perhaps the only historic item that will be saved at the Bird Cage will be its large sign, which firefighters were trying to remove Tuesday night so it wouldn't fall and hurt someone.
"I hope the community recognizes the importance of rebuilding it in the same historic character," Johnson said.
Firefighters were initially concerned the fire might breach the firewalls between the Prescott Food Store and Moctezuma's as well as the one between Larry and Hy's and Jenny Longhorn's because the fire had been burning so long, but the firewalls kept the fire contained to those three businesses, Nies said.
Hundreds of onlookers gathered across Montezuma Street on the Yavapai courthouse plaza.
John Haynes said he was concerned that all of Whiskey Row would catch fire like it did in the early 1900s.
"I just hope history doesn't repeat itself," said Allen Thomson, who came from his home nearby with his daughter when he saw the smoke.
The Hinsons also own the neighboring Jenny Longhorn clothing store and the hotel above it.
Howard Hinson and his wife were trying to find someplace for their hotel tenants such as Thomas Lane to stay Tuesday night. Lane said he was in his room at about 5:50 p.m. when he smelled smoke and left.
Firefighters kept water flowing from hoses from ladder trucks in front of the businesses and in the alley behind soaking the buildings for more than two hours and water with debris from the fire flooded Gurley Street.
"We were out shopping when we saw the smoke so we came over to see what was going on," said Cassidy Kohler, who watched the fire from the courthouse plaza with her husband and their six children. "We always see the firefighters when they're shopping at the grocery store, now we get to see them in action at what they really do so well."
Each time flames erupted from the roof, the crowd on the courthouse plaza lawn would gasp and Prescott police officers pushed the growing crowd back from the street to the courthouse steps.
"We were concerned that people watching might get overcome by the smoke or other medical issues as the fire cools and the haze drops, so we asked the officers to move them further back," Nies said.
Meanwhile, some snapped photos from the balcony at Jersey Lilly's, people gathered inside Matt's Saloon, and Joe Vacca played his guitar for the crowd at the courthouse plaza.
Nies said firefighters were concerned that the awnings, signs, and other parts of the building supported by the roof would collapse so they kept the engines a safe distance away.
Firefighters could be seen taking brief rests throughout the fire to recover from the physical stress of fighting the fire, inhaling the heavy smoke, and every available firefighter in the area was there to rotate in as needed. Life Line Ambulance crews remained nearby in case firefighters needed their help.
Firefighters said they would remain at the buildings throughout the night to mop up any remaining hotspots, Nies said.
Additional crews from Chino Valley and Central Yavapai covered other calls in the city that came in during the fire, Nies said.