Dedication of an historical marker in downtown Iola brought back memories for several firefighters.
A total of 13 fire departments and over 200 firefighters assisted with the June 20, 1999, Father’s Day Fire that destroyed seven buildings on the west side of Iola’s Main Street.
On July 22, eight of the fire departments were represented at the dedication ceremony.
Many of the firefighters recalled events from what the Iola Herald called “The Fire of the Century.”
Iola Fire Chief Charles Fritz said he called for mutual aid as soon as he saw the devastating fire. Responding immediately to help the Iola and Rural Fire Department (IRFD) were trucks and firefighters from Scandinavia and Ogdensburg-St. Lawrence.
As the fire raged, Fritz called in other departments to help.
“We knew right away it was a major fire,” Fritz stated. “We immediately initiated local aid, then countywide aid. We needed additional help, which was greatly appreciated.”
“It was a hot fire and hard to put out,” recalled Lt. Ron Wroblewski, from the Village of Plover Fire Department. This department brought a snorkel truck that was assigned to the back alley to stop the fire from spreading to other buildings. According to Wroblewski, the Waupaca Fire Department’s snorkel truck fought the fire from the front.
“We had poor visibility from the air,” stated Lt. Tim Cisewski, who operated Plover’s snorkel. “Gaining access to the fire was very difficult because of the way it was burning from building to building under the roofline.”
“The attack was well-coordinated with the water tankers,” Cisewski recalled.
“We helped (IRFD) fight the fire inside,” stated Dell Mork, of the Scandinavia Fire Department.
A flashover caused some of the firefighters to be slightly injured and withdraw from their inside positions.
“I’m glad nobody got seriously hurt,” Mork said.
The Manawa Rural Fire Department helped with the Waupaca Fire Department’s aerial truck, hauled water and supplied manpower and air packs, according to fire Chief Mark Levezow.
Most of the other departments helped haul water and supplied manpower.
“I was standing right there on the corner,” said Chief Gordon Puls, of the Fremont-Wolf River Fire Department.
“It was a learning experience,” stated Capt. Andy Beggs, of the Clintonville Fire Department.
Business owner comments
Also present at the historical marker dedication were people who lost their businesses in the Father’s Day Fire.
“It is hard to look at the pictures – it brings back memories,” said Mary Jo Byers, who lost her Iola Vision Center building in the fire. “I’m very glad I’m still here.”
“I was home and they called me,” recalled Howard Bestul, who lost his Bestul Realty building. He ran into his building to retrieve items. “I didn’t get much out of there,” Bestul said. “I came around the front and they wouldn’t let me back inside.
“They had to tear down (my building) to save the rest of Main Street,” he stated. “It was hard to see it tore down after being there so many years.”