Hundreds of people came to witness one of the worst fires in the history of Apollo. The day was Maundy Thursday, March 30, 1961 and the time was 9:00 p.m.. The fire started at Bryan Shepler’s Supermarket and seemed to leap across the brick and wood frame structure. The fire engulfed the entire block with flames nearly 100 feet high.
Firemen from Apollo Fire Dept. No. 2 and No. 3, Vandergrift Fire Dept. No. 1 and No. 2, North Apollo, Kiski Township, Oklahoma, and Parks Township fought to contain the blaze. The lack of water pressure hampered their efforts. The main power line was downed by the flames, leaving the town in total darkness. The glow of the bright red fire was seen for miles around. Volunteers came from all over the Alle-Kiski Valley, while Verona had a truck stuck on Oklahoma Hill because of traffic congestion. Arnold also had a truck on 1st Street near the Chambers Hotel.
Among the buildings which were destroyed by the roaring flames were: Shepler’s Market; Dr. J.M. Mumaw’s dentist office; the office of Laird Boarts, district director of State Farm Insurance; the State Farm Agency of Henry Egley and Glen Helman; Dom’s Beauty Shop; Jackson and Russell Men’s Clothing Store; Zula Smith’s Dress Shop; Walter Kunkle, public accountant; Riverview Cemetery Association; and the First National Bank. The bank was constructed of heavy thick concrete. The building was thought of as the last building to ever be engulfed by flames. Even though the electricity was cut off, the large clock in front of the bank kept ticking off the seconds until 11:35 p.m.. This was because the clock was controlled by a central box located above the vault in the heart of the roaring flames.
The effect of the fire reached beyond the charred block. All roads leading to Apollo were jammed. Many motorists were stopped on the hill in Oklahoma as they gazed down at the darkened Apollo, now lit up with flames. Roads leading to North Apollo and Spring Church were also jammed with cars watching the brightened town of Apollo.
Three families had to flee for their lives that night. Mrs. Shilling and Mrs. Wiser rented apartments above the supermarket. Both had to run with their families from the flames which quickly engulfed the building. A house next to the State Farm Insurance office was heavily damaged. Smoke and water damage was confined to the downstairs, but the second floor in the rear was badly burned. Homes were drenched for protection.
Among the injured were Dom Gabrelli, who fell off a ten foot wall, suffering a broken jaw; Don Morgan had minor burns; Al Porrecca, along with many other firemen, were overcome with smoke; and Ernie Uptegraph was hit by a car while directing traffic. Al Porrecca and Dom Gabrelli were taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital. Several other firemen were treated for smoke inhalation and minor injuries at the scene by first aid crewmen at the squad wagon. Ambulances from Oklahoma and Vandergrift No. 2 fire depts. were also stationed at the scene.
Apollo No. 2 Fire Dept. nearly lost their brand new fire truck because of the intense heat of the fire. The truck was pumping from a fire hydrant directly in front of the bank. Since several lines were stretched from the truck, it could not be moved, and as a result, was badly scorched and covered with tar and dirt.
The blaze was considered to be the most destructive fire in the Kiski Valley’s history with an estimated damage of $350,000.
After the fire, the Apollo Trust Company bought the land and constructed the new modern building. The construction fo the bank actually marked the beginning of the Apollo Redevelopment Program.