About 10 p.m. on the night of Feb. 8, 1933, guests staying on the fourth floor of the Millard Hotel in downtown Omaha began to notice flames licking out of windows on floors below. Minutes later, the hotel’s lights went dark. By 10:04 p.m., the first alarms were called into Omaha fire stations, according to World-Herald archives.
Firefighters climbed the ladders and directed jets of water through upper-story windows. Any water that missed froze immediately, coating surfaces and forming dangerous slicks in the streets and alleys below. The temperature that night plunged to minus 15 degrees, and many firefighters later suffered frostbite from the spray. About 11 p.m., parts of the roof and upper floors collapsed, possibly because of an explosion in the hotel’s paint shop, and the outer north wall blew outward. Firefighters on ladders and in the alley were crushed by a searing hot blast of bricks and debris.