The 1908 Great Jensen Fire, and the Benefits of Fire, along the Indian River Lagoon

"Jensen, Florida, After the Fire, May 3,1908." (Photo page 145, Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida's Indian River, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)
“Jensen, Florida, After the Fire, May 3, 1908.” (Photo page 145, Historic Jensen and Eden on Florida’s Indian River, by Sandra Henderson Thurlow.)

The front page of today’s Stuart News, reads: “40 Acres Burn in the Savannas.” The wind shifted causing a prescribed burn to jump control lines. Unfortunate. There have been other fires in the history of our area too, like the great fire of Jensen in 1908.

"Jensen in Ruins," Florida Photographic Concern, courtesy Sandra H. Thurlow.)
“Jensen in Ruins,” Florida Photographic Concern, courtesy Sandra H. Thurlow.)

Here is an anonymous account of the 1908 fire in my mother’s book. The account was published in the Jensen Beach Mirror in 1962.

“The town of Jensen is burning down this morning. The fire rages up and down Commercial Street, from the river to the railroad tracks and beyond. It seems certain that each of the seventeen stores…will be consumed. Jensen has no fire department. Men are trying to stem the holocaust with buckets of water and what little power can be built with hand pumps and windmills…”

The fire’s location at C.H. Munch & Co. was determined but the reason for the fire never was… Jensen business was slow to rebuild after the 1908 fire and two years later another fire brought down the iconic Al Fresco Hotel that was located closer to the river just off of Main Street.

Historic post card of the Al Fresco Hotel, Jensen, late 1800s. (Courtesy of Sandra H. Thurlow.)

Historic post card of the Al Fresco Hotel, Jensen, late 1800s. (Courtesy of Sandra H. Thurlow.)

Many fires in Florida and in Martin/StLucie Counties are made by Mother Nature and not humankind. Fire is actually a heathy and needed part of our area’s pine, scrub, hammock, and swamp system.  Fire naturally rejuvenates the land and habitat of  the native animals and birds. Many native trees and animals have evolved over thousands of years to live in harmony with this fire system. Gopher turtle holes can be very long and deep, providing protection during fires to many species.  Palmettos, sabal palms, and pines trees are “fire resistant.” Fire is nature’s way to bring nutrients (fertilizer) to the plants in a way that does not hurt the river as ash holds in the soil, and shortly after fires, a very obvious “rebirth” occurs.

This Florida Forest Service chart shows how frequently fires would occur if mankind was not suppressing them.

Chart by USDA showing frequency of wildfire in Florida if there were no human intervention.

Chart by Forest Service showing frequency of wildfire in Florida if there were no human intervention.

Prescribed burns are an attempt to help nature, not hurt it. Unfortunately, when playing with fire, things can get out of control quickly. At least we did not have a fire like the Great Jensen Fire of 1908. ___________________________________________________________________

University of Florida/Florida Wildfires/Forest Service: (http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fire-considering.pdf)

Alice and Greg Luckhardt’s historical vignette of the Jensen Fire:  Google  “Jensen Fire Luckhardt” for a great story I cannot get to link to this page.

2 thoughts on “The 1908 Great Jensen Fire, and the Benefits of Fire, along the Indian River Lagoon

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