The fire department expanded in 1970 from 13 personnel to 21 in 1973. The 1970’s saw a rash of arson caused fires, not only here in Kalispell but nationally as well.
On May 29, 1970 burglars broke into the Buttrey Food Store and stole the safe with a forklift. It is believed that the blaze at the Animal Center at First Avenue West and Fourth Street had been started as a diversion.
During the month of July, 1972 the department responded to 17 fires of suspected arson. August 5th, was the day of the disastrous fire of Ewing’s Enterprise, Bomar Office Supply and Western Development Co, causing $500,000 in damages.
A suspicious fire broke out the morning of September 22, 1976 sending 5 persons to the hospital. The fire destroyed the historic Buffalo Block, and became the most expensive fire in Kalispell history. Lost in the blaze were Hillstead’s Department Store on the main floor, and every office on the second level, containing a dental lab, psychologist office, insurance office, business machine firm, attorneys’ office, and six medical offices. 36 hours later a fire broke out the Kelly-Main Furniture building.
Other fires that occurred in rapid sequence during these hectic and tiring times for the firefighters were, the Glacier Building, Village Pantry, J.C. Penney Co., Wheaton’s Cycle and Toy, the Blue and White Motel, Cornelius Hedges School and the B&B store.
The Chamber of Commerce offered rewards for the arrest and conviction of persons responsible. The Governor, Thomas Judge declared downtown Kalispell a disaster area, and Mayor Norma Happ declared a state of emergency calling for a curfew for all youths under 18.
The Equity Grain Elevator sent billows of smoke into the sky on May 25, 1977 when a fire swept through. Stewarts Carpet, Norge, and Amfax were destroyed in a fire that following December.
Arsonists struck Kalispell again in 1984, when fire destroyed the following business’ on the 200 block of Main street; Jack’s Tavern, Carmen’s Steak House, Fergusson’s Mode ‘O Day and the M&M Business and Professional Building.
The historic Fernwell Apartments were burned to the ground in a ferocious fire that broke out on November 15, 1993.