This Classic Answer Man was first published in June 2016.
The worst commercial fire in Rochester history devastated the south end of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center on Feb. 21, 1971. No one was injured in the blaze.
Answer Maniac Wayne Diercks passed along the following memory of the fire. I’ve been stirring the ashes of that conflagration recently — many people of my tender age have never heard of this fire, so I’m doing my duty by making sure it’s recorded for posterity:
“I remember the Miracle Mile Fire of 1971 vividly. I lived in a rental house owned by Don Frerichs, the hardware store owner, with my college roommates, directly across from the south end of the mall on the corner of 16th Avenue and First Street Southwest.
“I awoke to the drone of fire truck engines and saw fire hoses connected to the fire hydrant outside my bedroom window. The firefighting efforts were concentrated on Frerichs Hardware Store, about the same location as the current hardware store, where smoke was pouring out the back door facing 16th Avenue Southwest. Occasional gunshots could be heard, apparently from exploding ammunition that was sold there.
“I then had to leave for my job at Scott’s Westside Service Station, which was diagonally across Highway 52. I had a good view of the mall fire from the front side all day as I worked my shift. It appeared as if crews had the fire under control and contained to a small area until a stiff breeze out of the south began building. Suddenly, flames erupted from the second-floor offices above the hardware store and the wind quickly carried them north. The flames raced uncontrolled along the second floor offices and burned through to the first-floor stores below as they traveled.
“Only the alley by J. D. Coin prevented the wind-driven fire from destroying the north end of the shopping mall.
“Later that day as the charred remains cooled, heavy equipment carrying a large safe from the hardware store cracked the concrete driveway of our rental house as the safe was deposited in the garage owned by Frerichs.
“The next several weeks, we played catch with a football on the flooring of the destroyed mall as a decision was made whether to rebuild. Eventually, a single-story version of the mall was built on the same footprint, with many of the same businesses returning.
“As long as I live, I will never forget that eventful day.”