May 10, 1977: Fire at Industrial Welders on Park Point

On this day in Duluth in 1977, fire ripped through the Industrial Welders and Machinists Company at 1003 Minnesota Avenue on Park Point. At about 8 a.m. the slow-moving arm of a positioning device encountered a misplaced tank of propane, cutting it in two; flames from a welder ignited the gas. Twenty firefighters, seven rigs and a Coast Guard rescue boat responded to the scene, but struggled to fight the fire. The single, six-inch water main that runs the length of Minnesota Point offered little water pressure. Firefighters tired pumping water from the bay, but that too was insufficient. The Coast Guard rescue boat helped, pouring 500 gallons of water per minute on the building’s bay side, but it wasn’t enough. The fire caused an estimated $1 million loss to the building and contents. Its owner, Jim Apernathy, criticized the fire department. “They were slow and didn’t have enough water,” he told the Duluth News-Tribune, “It was a joke.” The article was accompanied by another story about the difficulties firefighters encounter on the Point: the low water pressure, the lack of a fire hydrant at Sky Harbor Airport, delays caused by the Aerial Lift Bridge, and only one person manning Fire Hall #5 along the Point. Fire marshal Larry Bushey explained that the only reason the city maintained Fire Hall #5 was because, if fire trucks were held up by a bridge lift, “At least there’ll be one man to rescue people or whatever.” Bushey became chief in 1984 and served for ten years. In 2012, despite outcries by Park Point residents, the city closed and sold Fire Hall #5. It is now a private residence.

Duluth Fire Department Engine House #5. (Image: Zenith City Press)

Subscribe to This Day in Duluth!