KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — At 3:46 a.m. on April 8, 1897, a call came in to the Knoxville Fire Department about a fire at the Hotel Knox on Gay Street.
Current KFD spokesperson DJ Corcoran said the mayor and fire chief at the time quickly determined the fire was too big for the 12-year-old department to handle alone. They called Chattanooga for help around 5:30 a.m. and just over an hour later a train left Chattanooga carrying a pump, hose and nine firefighters.
Even though the train was traveling as fast as 90 mph, it would not arrive in Knoxville until just after 8:30 a.m.
Crews were able to get the fire under control by 10:25 a.m., but the estimated $1-2 million in damage was done.
They had to dynamite a building to create a fire break, 11 buildings were destroyed and five people were killed.
According to a post from the Knoxville History Project, the fire began near an elevator shaft in the Hotel Knox, and while there was never an official cause reported, "the officer on patrol, R.W. Gowan, theorized that rats somehow ignited loose matches, which then spread to the many combustibles stored in the hotel's basement."