On September 16, 1868, the Cariboo gold rush town of Barkerville was engulfed in flames.
“Only a few days since we with much pride spoke of the order and neatness of the town of Barkerville, and our ink had scarcely dried ere that town was a mass of smouldering ruins; and charred timbers and heaps of rubbish only marked the spot where stood the metropolis of Cariboo…. In just one hour and twenty minutes from the first cry of fire, the last roof fell, and the destruction of the town of Barkerville was pronounced complete…the merciless element had turned the tenants of 120 houses roofless into the streets, and many with no more property than covered their persons.”
A fire first appeared on the roof of Addler and Barry’s Saloon near the centre of Barkerville at 2:30pm and by 4:00pm, almost the entire town was burnt to the ground. The Cariboo Sentinel newspaper reported the loss at $673,000, including damage to their office at $500.
Those closest to the fire could do little to save any goods, but those on the outer edge of town took whatever they could. Soon after the fire abated, merchants went to gather up items they had rescued from the blaze and found most of them missing. Several thousands of dollars worth were found concealed in cabins, old shafts and hidden on the many trails that led out of town.
While there was some discussion about how the fire started, a public meeting was held to discuss the lack of a fire brigade.