“FIRE! Fire!” Frantic pleas for help broke the stillness of the quiet afternoon in Nauvoo. But it wasn’t a barn or a shed that was in flames that February 9, 1846.
Eleven-year-old Aurelia Spencer was nearby and could see men on top of the temple, swinging their hats and calling for assistance. Many members of the Church were busy preparing to leave Illinois for Utah, but when the alarm sounded everyone left whatever they were doing to help save the temple.
Willard Richards, a leader in the community, was on the temple grounds when the fire started and he immediately took charge. He shouted for everyone, including women and children, to rush to the closest wells to fill buckets with water. Two rows of men were formed on the stairs leading up to the attic roof of the temple where the fire had started. They passed full buckets of water up one row of fire fighters and returned them empty down another. Aurelia ran back and forth carrying pails of water to the men in the bucket brigade. But the wells were soon emptied, and teams of horses were driven to the river to obtain water.
There were a few moments of confusion when another alarm called some of the Saints to help rescue the victims of an accident nearby involving two riverboats. But in spite of this interruption, the temple fire was put out after about half an hour.
Hosea Stout, one of the fire fighters, said that a hole about 3 1/2 meters square had been burned in the roof. Later it was found that the temple fire had been caused by a red-hot stovepipe that ignited some clothes drying in an attic room.
When the fire was completely extinguished, Aurelia joined with the Saints as they rejoiced with loud shouts of Hosannah. Brigham Young, President of the Council of the Twelve, had seen the smoke from some distance and arrived just as the crowd began to celebrate. The Nauvoo band then climbed to the top of the roof and began to play for those gathered below.
Aurelia felt privileged to be able to help put out the fire that could easily have destroyed the Saints’ beloved temple. She later wrote, “Child as I was, I could not help noticing the order that prevailed and the calmness of the men that superintended the work.”
Aurelia grew up to become the president of the first Primary organized in the Church.