A spectacular fire broke out at the old Murphy & Ames lumber yard in Rosslyn on the night of Friday, Dec. 28, 1951.
The first alarm was transmitted at 9:15 p.m. and at the height of the blaze, the flames were visible for miles.
"I was out in Merrifield and I could see the smoke and the glow - so I followed it," said retired station commander George Kirschbaum, at the time a volunteer. "It looked like all of Arlington was on fire." Veteran volunteer Harold LeRoy also saw the glow from Alexandria.
With all of Arlington's fire crews pressed into service, the inferno brought the first test of a mutual aid agreement approved by Congress and the state legislatures of Virginia and Maryland, said John Paul Jones, a former president of the Arlington Volunteer Fireman's Association, quoted by The Washington Post.
Firefighters from Alexandria, the District of Columbia and Montgomery County answered the alarm. In all, 42 pieces of apparatus responded to the general alarm, and "at least 200 firemen, including volunteers" battled the blaze in bitter winter cold, said Deputy Fire Chief Percy Finisecy, who was quoted in the Dec. 30 edition of the Post.
Besides the devastation at the lumber yard, firefighters contended with embers that threatened wood frame homes in the neighborhood. Some crews were assigned exclusively to brand patrol.
Even old Rescue Squad 5 was scorched. "I remember pulling the seat out because it was on fire," LeRoy recalled. The heat melted hundreds of glass panes at the Geophysical Instrument Co. and firefighters played fire streams on that building to prevent the fire from spreading.
The flames also scorched nearby power lines, forcing the Potomac Electric Power Co. to cut power to Rosslyn and Fort Myer.
William Clark, a volunteer at Company 1, was the senior operator on duty at the PEPCO substation across the Potomac River in Georgetown. While he couldn't leave his post, he had a good view of the blaze -- and threw the switch to cut power to the area. "I wanted to go but I couldn't," Clark said.
The fire was declared under control at midnight.
Salvage and overhaul operations continued into Saturday as each stack of wood was broken down and wetted. Damage was estimated at $300,000.