Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dishes turn deadly in 1924 house fire

Homesteading in the early days of the pioneer West often called for living in camp-like conditions. A McKay Creek family was visited by tragedy when the simple act of washing the dinner dishes led to a conflagration that took the life of a 19-year-old mother of two.

Maurice Hall worked as a teamster on the McKay Dam construction project near Pendleton. Mabel Lackey Hall, Maurice’s wife, was preparing to washing dishes from the evening meal about 5 p.m. on December 15, 1924, in the family’s home, a combination canvas tent and wooden shack. Mabel pulled a pan of boiling water off the stove and picked up a nearby bucket to cool the wash water.

The bucket contained gasoline instead of water.

The resulting explosion immediately ignited the interior of the house. Mabel frantically grabbed what she thought was her older child, two-year-old Leslie, and ran out of the house. But the boy was still inside the home when Mabel burst out the door, engulfed in flames. Maurice and a neighbor, C.A. Piquet, were talking about 100 feet from the house when she appeared. They beat out the flames on her clothes and in her hair, and then rushed into the inferno when Mabel screamed that the children were still inside the burning building.

Young Leslie made it outside on his own, but Maurice and Mr. Piquet had to break out a window at the back of the house to rescue the three-month-old baby from his crib. The baby was unscathed, but Leslie suffered burns to his arm, hips and head. He and his mother were rushed to St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, where Mrs. Hall succumbed to her injuries.

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