By January 1902, the competing Packard and Martell Sawmills had deforested much of the region's hills. In a frenzied drive to outperform one another, the two mills caused a logjam that stretched seven miles to White Tail Falls and rendered traffic on the river impossible. The blockage persisted for two weeks until, on the night of February 24, 1902, the logjam caught fire and soon spread ashore. The resulting blaze lasted eight days, destroying thirty percent of the structures in the foundering town, killing livestock, and taking the lives of six residents before it was extinguished by the rain. Two more residents expired due to complications in the following days, bringing the death toll to eight.
It was unclear what started the fire, but according to a report in a contemporary newspaper (possibly the Spokane Spokesman-Review), most attributed the fire to a lightning strike from a passing storm. Others claimed it had been a curse laid by a displaced Native American medicine man, while still others claimed they had witnessed "columns of fire" descend from the sky.