The 1970 New Year was welcomed by a 3-inch snow fall that gave a picturesque holiday scene covering Claremore and the surrounding area. Six weeks later, a much different view would spring forth.
A huge, black billowing cloud would cover the downtown section. From as far away as Keetonville Hill, it appeared the whole city was burning.
Following the minor January snow, the area went through a dry spell. By mid-February, Claremore firemen were being kept busy. A man burning leaves caused his garage to catch fire. A small fire broke out in a service station. Small grass fires on the out stretches of town were doused.
On Friday, Febr. 20, another alarm sounded at the Claremore Fire Department. This time it was much different. Before the day was over, one side of a city block would be ravaged.
A fire had started in the kitchen area of Copp’s Café in the 600 block of West Will Rogers Boulevard. It would destroy the popular eating place, Marshall’s Children Shop, the offices of Dr. Jim Marshall and Dr. Allen Keenan, and three upstairs apartments.
Smoke and water damage would also result in the adjacent Montgomery Tire and B&K Firestone Tire stores on opposite ends of the block.
Throughout the battle with the flames, it was feared the fire embers might fly across the street and land on the roof of the old brittle Mason Hotel.
The first alarm was sounded at 12:23 p.m. The café was nearly full with its usual noon crowd. Two of the customers were Chamber of Commerce secretary Yvonne Benton and Claremore Progress employee Mike Erpey. Mrs. Benton said she saw flames on the grill but cook Tommy Copp didn’t “…appear too alarmed.” She thought it was a grease spill.
Minutes later, someone yelled the place was on fire. Looking in the kitchen this time, Erpey said part of the ceiling was flaming and starting to fall.
In “short order” huge rolling blobs of black smoke covered the overhead skies.
Local firefighters were soon joined by men of the Collinsville and Pryor fire departments. Three from Claremore’s department were placed on the roof. Their bucket truck was forced to move back twice due to the intense heat.
Using a fire hydrant on the corner of Wichita Street (now J.M. Davis Boulevard) and Will Rogers, the firemen were able to release 750 gallons of water a minute onto the flames. The next closest plug was at the Will Rogers Hotel corner. When firemen attempted to hook up their hoses they discovered it was not in working order.
The major concern about the fire moving across the street came at 1:15. The slight wind that was blowing switched around to the south and picked up somewhat.
When informed about the fire across the street, J.M. Davis, owner and operator of the Mason Hotel, went immediately to the roof of his building. Age 82 at the time, he remained there the rest afternoon. Armed with a garden hose and rake, he was prepared to protect his property.
His massive private gun collection and other artifacts were housed in his hotel. They would not be moved until 19 years later.
By 2 p.m., the interior of the café was completely gutted. The flames were by then under control however.
It would be several days before an accurate accounting could be placed on the damage. Fire Chief Frank Paris said this fire compared to the two fires believed to be the biggest in Claremore.
Both of those occurred in 1955. The first was when a truck loaded with propane bottles overturned on a city street. A short time later, the O’Bannon Feed Store near the Frisco Railroad track caught fire.
In addition to the damage to the businesses, the three apartments were totally destroyed. Two were vacant. The lady living in the third was not at home that afternoon.
Copp’s Café was never rebuilt. Owner Cecil Copp did move to a new location four blocks west to the Long Museum and Hotel. The downtown lot was soon overtaken by weeds, dirt, and small portions of concrete rocks.
In time, the remainder of the block was also leveled to make way for a new modern Walgreens and Claremore Tire & Auto Repair.