One of Memphis’ largest fires on record occurred on February 1, 1964, at Nickey Brothers Lumber Company at 2700 Summer Avenue. The huge hardwood flooring and plywood plant, spread over 35 acres, was a Memphis landmark for many years, although the plant had been shut down before the fire occurred. Unfortunately, sprinkler systems protecting many buildings on the property were turned off to prevent pipes from freezing. Also, there was no watchman at the site, so the fire had a tremendous head start before it was reported. Flames that ignited in a single warehouse were blown across the industrial complex by a 15-mile per hour wind, which caused five other buildings to bum. Fire fighters worked for most of the day to contain the blaze, while a column of smoke similar to a bomb blast attracted thousands of onlookers to watch from the Summer Avenue viaduct over the Illinois Central Railroad. Summer Avenue was eventually closed by police, and Fire Chief Eddie Hamilton criticized citizens who rushed to the scene and impeded emergency traffic. This four-alarm fire required 27 fire companies and at least 100 fire fighters to bring it to a close. Since the plant had been closed and much of the expensive machinery removed before the fire, property loss was not excessive despite the spectacular blaze.

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