The Del Norte County Courthouse Fire

Del Norte County’s governmental business came to an abrupt halt during the early morning hours of January 18th, 1948, when fire broke out in Del Norte Court House. The fire began at about 5:45 a.m. “in or near” the Office of the Superintendent of Schools.

One of the first spectators on scene was a woman identified as “Mrs. Marian Cutler,” who ran to the rear of the building. She saw no flames outside, but “a furious fire … in the back of the building and roaring up into the second floor.”

Walter Rinemer, also noticed that “the hottest and worst” of the fire was burning jus’ inside a back hall. Fire Chief Bill Marshall thought the blaze “probably” started in or near the office of the school superintendent.

The city and county had already set an election for April and June, respectively. Scrambling quickly, then-County Clerk Emma Cooper alerted voters that they would all have to re-register or they could not take part.

Crescent City voters had until March 4 to register for the city’s April 13 elections. Residents of the county had longer, until April 22 for the June primary election.

In addition, city candidates had to file their nomination papers.

The old wooden building, constructed in 1879, spread quickly. Not much was left for future generations.

City councilors also had a sewer survey proposed when plans went up in smoke. One of the most highly valued losses was a law library worth up to $40,000.

“It was one of the finest small law libraries in any county anywhere,” said Judge Sam Finley.

The building, which cost $18,000 to build, carried $32,000 insurance — $20,000 on the structure. The law library was insured for $6,000 and the building’s contents were insured for $6,000.

Other losses included a surveyor’s report and maps for a new county road system, records of cases under probate, and grand jury testimony. Teachers’ paychecks were lost, as were records of cases pending before San Francisco Superior Court and the District Court of Appeals.

None of the records were insured.

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