The New Year's Day Fire at Yandt's Department Store in Missoula, 1942
December 30, 2020
Many, many people have called 2020 a dumpster fire, but here's hoping that 2021 isn't a department store fire.
This dramatic photo, taken on New Year's Day in 1942 by legendary Montana photographer R. H. McKay, shows firemen combatting a blaze consuming Yandt's Men's Wear Store in Missoula. This was on the corner of Higgins and Pine Street and, before the fire was contained, it would go on to destroy three buildings. The block was, of course, rebuilt. As of this writing, a restaurant called "Sushi Hana" occupies the spot today, which serves as well as anything to demonstrate the changes wrought by the passage of time.
McKay came out West to be a barber, but quickly discovered a love of photography. He set up a professional studio in Missoula in the early 1910s and enjoyed a bustling trade in photographing western Montana for many years until his retirement in the 1940s. That makes this a very late photograph for McKay, who is probably best known for portraits of Native-American life.
Happy New Year, Montana. And remember to make sure your fire alarms have batteries in them, and that your fire extinguishers are up to date!