It was a gusting, swirling wind that drove the flames from the O’Learys’ barn into the neighboring yards. To the east, a fence and shed of James Dalton’s went up in flames; to the west, a barn smoldered for a few minutes, then flared up into a thousand yellow-orange fingers. Dennis Rogan had heard Sullivan’s initial shouts about the fire and returned. He forced open the door to the O’Learys’ house and called for them to wake up.
Moments later, Patrick emerged from the cottage, still half asleep. “Kate!” he screamed the moment he saw what was happening. “The barn is afire!”
Their first action was to get their children out of the house and into the street safely away from the fire. The barn was already engulfed in flames, so Patrick and a group of neighbors began pouring water on the cottage. It would catch fire several times during the night, but the flames would be smothered before they could get out control. Strangely enough, the cottage on the O’Leary property would survive with little damage.
At about this time William Lee, who lived down the block from the O’Learys’, when into his seventeen-month-old’s room to see why the child was crying. After comforting his son, Lee went to fasten the window blind. Outside, he saw a crimson night sky lit up by flames and flying embers. Already some of those embers were landing in his yard and igniting the grass and leaves.
Lee hesitated a moment before shouting to his wife to take care of the baby and rushing out of the house. He ran the three blocks to Bruno Goll’s drugstore, determined to do what no one in the neighborhood had thought about doing; turn in a fire alarm. At this point, the fire was barely fifteen minutes old. What followed was a series of fatal errors that set the fire free and doomed the city to a fiery death.