The Flammable Northwestern Bell Building

Nov. 27, 1983

This view from the 11th floor of the Medical Arts Building shows the extent of the damage to scaffolding on the Northwestern Bell building after Sunday night’s fire. (Jack Rendulich / News Tribune)

Spectacular blaze ravages phone building scaffolding (News Tribune, Nov. 28, 1983)

A spectacular ball of fire, spurred by wind gusts of up to 40 mph, tore through the nine-story scaffolding in the rear of the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. building in downtown Duluth Sunday night.

Most of the scaffolding was destroyed, and the building was damaged.

The fire started at the bottom of the scaffolding on the east side of the building and knocked out long-distance phone service to and from the Twin Cities. Bell employees worked through the night to restore service.

The fire was confined to the exterior scaffolding on the building at 322 W. First St. …

… The scaffolding is alongside the building while employees of Amendola Construction Co. remove and replace faulty brickwork. …

… One spectator viewing the blaze from about 10 blocks away said the top of the building looked "like a big ball of fire from an explosion." Gusts swirled the flames around the top of the building, witnesses said.


No one was injured in the fire, which was blamed on arson. Less than 14 months later, it happened again:

Jan. 16, 1985

Thick, black smoke rises from the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. in downtown Duluth on Wednesday after scaffolding on the building caught fire. (Joey McLeister / News Tribune)

Blaze damages scaffolding on phone building (News Tribune, Jan. 17, 1985)

Fire raced up scaffolding on the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. building in downtown Duluth on Wednesday for the second time in just over a year.

"We can’t win," said Joanne Haug, manager of Northwestern Bell in Duluth.

The fire Wednesday hardly resembled the spectacular blaze on the night of Nov. 27, 1983, which climbed the scaffolding on the rear of the building.

"It wasn’t as big as the last one," Haug said.

Wednesday’s fire caused an estimated $15,000 in damage, said Lou Gerard, assistant chief of the Duluth Fire Department. Damage in the 1983 fire … was about $600,000.

One employee was treated Wednesday for smoke inhalation and employees were evacuated from the building at Fourth Avenue West and First Street.


Sept. 9, 1985

The flammable scaffolding was part of a years-long project to remodel the troubled building, and the completion of the project spurred this editorial in the News Tribune:

3 Responses

  1. Pingback : Duluth’s most flammable building? | News Tribune Attic

  2. John

    My father was the employee that was treated for smoke inhalation. I remember hearing from him about him jumping out to the scaffolding to fight the fire.

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