By Steve Lent, Historian
A man sleeping on a pool table in O’Kane’s Saloon in the small village of Bend was awakened in the early morning hours of April 27, 1905 by burning embers falling on him from the ceiling of the building. He jumped off the pool table and raced for the door and fired a pistol into the quiet morning air.
The shots announced Bend’s first fire, which destroyed the O’Kane saloon on the corner of Oregon and Bond Streets. The pistol shots failed to rouse many people and before any help arrived the building was mostly consumed by flames.
Efforts were centered on saving nearby buildings which included the O’Kane bowling alley and cigar stand, the Estebenet saloon and the Erickson boarding house. Water in barrels was brought by wagon from the Deschutes River and firefighters soaked blankets and packed them on the sides of the cigar store to keep it from flaming and to protect other buildings. An outhouse located between the two buildings was toppled and moved out of the way to eliminate a link for the fire to spread.
Water was brought in buckets from the Deschutes River over several blocks as there was no domestic water supply at that time. It was feared that the whole town might burn down if strong winds were to pick up, but fortunately the wind remained calm and finally the fire died down. Nearby buildings were badly scorched but survived.
After the excitement had died down one of the onlookers discovered two full water barrels directly in front of the wreckage of the saloon that had been there during the entire fire.
The estimated loss in the fire was $4,000. The only undamaged possessions in the building were the cash register, some scattered bottles of liquor and a painting of the Three Sisters. Insurance only covered $2400 of the damages but O’Kane decided to rebuild.
The nearly disastrous fire led the newly emerging community to establish a water system later that year and by the end of July the Bend fire department was formed. It was composed of two hose companies and 31 volunteer firemen. A bell was purchased as a signal for fire fighters and the pistol shots in the air were retired.