Fire Suppression Stymied at Wrightsville Beach, 1934

A 1930s era fire truck

A fire truck from the era. This one belonged to Mocksville.
Image from the Davie County Public Library.

On January 28, 1934, a devastating fire destroyed much of Wrightsville Beach, including the legendary Oceanic Hotel.

Just after noon on that Sunday, smoke poured out of the Kitty Cottage, a boarding house on the north end of the island. In less than three hours, more than 100 buildings were leveled as the westerly wind took the fire from building to building via wooden-shingled roofs. The handful of permanent residents and the tiny volunteer fire department formed bucket brigades and pushed carts laden with hoses through the sand but, with no fire hydrants, it was a lost cause. Once the wind shifted to the southwest, the flames roared to more than 50 feet high and were so hot they could be felt on Harbor Island, between Wrightsville and the mainland.

The Wilmington Fire Department was called to assist but, with no vehicular bridge to the island, the heavy equipment was placed onto a trolley and, once on the island, sank into the sand as the wooden boardwalks had been burned as well. All that was left of the north end of the island was chimneys, iron bed frames and dead crabs littering the beach.

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