Apache County Independent News           January 21, 1964

Becker Store Destroyed in $250,000 Blaze

   SPRINGERVILLE--Ninety years of continuous business in the general mercantile field went up in flames early Tuesday when Becker Mercantile burned to the ground with the building and contents a total loss.
   According to Richard Becker, third generation owner of the business, founded in 1874 by the late Gustav Becker, the inventory amounted to approximately $90,000 and the building was valued at over $150,000.
   According to Fire Chief Rue Hale, he received a call at 1:45 a.m. from Lyman Murdock, night station attendant at the Whiting Bros. service station. That Becker Mercantile was on fire. They rushed the fire engines to the blaze, but by the time they arrived the entire building was in flames. It was impossible to save anything from inside the building, and although all fire engines from Springerville and Eagar plus a tank trunk were called into service, they were unable to control the flames. The fireman fought the fire until nearly 9 a.m. Tuesday.
   Only two walls were left intact in the building. Two walls, on the east and north sides, partially collapsed, and the entire building was a gutted ruin from the second story on down into the basement. Twisted steel girders and ashes filled the excavation where the basement had been.
   Hale said they had no idea how the fire had started and there probably is not enough left of the building and contents to ever tell how it happened.
   Somehow, although the flames were at times going approximately 100 feet in the air and sparks were flying everywhere, the fire was contained in the Becker Mercantile building. Some windows were popped out of the Federal Building and Western Drug Store by the intense heat, and it was necessary for owner Merl Harper and his brother-in-law Gus Becker to get on the roof of the Apache Chief Hotel with a hose to put out the spark caused fires, but no serious damage was done to any other building.
   A few trash and grass fires were reported in the north end of town from sparks from the conflagration, but they also did no serious damage.
   A sudden wind shift nearly cost the Town of Springerville a fire truck. The blaze scorched the cab, hood and fenders of the truck before they were able to move it out of the way.
Exploding bullets and shotgun shells caused quite a bit of uneasiness among the firemen, as the shell whizzed all over the street from the building.
   Ice turned out to be another hazard. The streets were covered with water which froze almost immediately making driving dangerous in the area.
   The building and contents reportedly carried a substantial amount of insurance, but not enough to cover the entire loss.
It was reported Tuesday afternoon that they felt that the vault and its contents were intact, although it had not been opened then. That meant that the records of accounts receivable, cash, checks and other documents were supposedly safe. They were not planning on opening the vault until the coals had all been killed and the debris cooled off.
   Al Naegle reported that when he left his place of business for home at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday he drove by Becker Mercantile but he did not notice anything wrong at the time. Gus Reib, manager of the dry goods department, said that they had been smelling gas for about a week but had been unable to find where the leak was. This led some to believe that the fire was caused by an accumulation of gas and an explosion.
   The management has announced that they plan on re-opening soon. They are now looking for a location that is suitably located and large enough.
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From Jack Becker's Collection