Seventeen women and girls were spending their Thursday afternoon in a Nampa beauty shop that operated on the mezzanine level of the Drake Drug Store. The highs had been in the 90s all week, so it was a relief to be inside and out of the heat. The Fourth of July was coming up on the weekend, so there was probably talk about family gatherings and fireworks.
Two sons of the drug store manager, DuWayne and Keith Drake sorted through the fireworks display in the front window, making up an order. Children played with fireworks nearby.
At 4:30 pm Pandora’s box split open. A searing blast filled the interior of the building in one blinding second. Shooting rockets, spinning pinwheels, and the machine-gun rattle of firecrackers blocked the front exit to customers. Some 30 patrons of the drugstore, singed and deafened by the blast, made it out the back door. The Drake boys stumbled out the front, scorched, but mostly unhurt. The beauty shop customers had no ready escape.
As flames shot from the second story windows, the women and girls who rushed out onto the back balcony faced a grim decision: jump or wait for rescue.
Fire fighters arrived in minutes with a ladder. Volunteer fireman Jack Gakey pulled four women from the flames and carried them to safety. He went back a fifth time to search for others and was overcome by smoke. Fellow firefighters brought him out.
Several jumped from the beauty shop balcony onto the concrete below. One girl suffered a broken leg.
Extinguishing the blaze took just 15 minutes. In the aftermath, reporter Ellen Trueblood described the charred ruin of the store, the cracked mirrors, exploded bottles of excelsiors and drugs, the upholstery burned from the stools. A scorched deer head still hung from the west wall, the hide rolled crisply back from the armature of the mount.
This was not Nampa’s first experience with fireworks gone awry. A fireworks fire 28 years earlier, on July 3, 1909 destroyed an entire block, burning for most of the day. No one was injured in that fire, but it convinced the city to ban the sale of fireworks. That ban was lifted just four years before the Drake Drug blaze. It was immediately reinstated following the 1937 fire.
Three women died because of their injuries, as did three girls aged, 4, 12, and 16. It was a double funeral for Mrs. Miller and her 4-year-old daughter Catherine Ann.
Fire fighters were called out all too often to the site on the corner of 2nd Street South and 13th Avenue South in the 1930s. Drake Drug had suffered a non-lethal fire in June of 1935 when an explosion in the basement destroyed much of the store’s stock. Just over a year after the deadly 1937 fire, the Montgomery Ward store adjacent to Drake Drug burned, complete with explosions from stocks of ammunition.