The Great Colon Fire of 1940 – 74 Years Later

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Today, April 13, marks the 74th anniversary of what has come to be known in our history in Panama as “The Great Colon Fire of 1940.” In point of fact, the blaze lasted the 2 days, April 13 and 14 much to the horror of the Silver People of Colon.

The fire affected me personally and it was burned into my childhood memory as, being a little boy of three years, I was probably one of the first few people to witness its initial outbreak during the daylight hours. As I described it here and here in my recollections on The Silver People Chronicle, in my innocence I reasoned that the “fire” did not appear to be a fire at all but a kind of “rainbow”as the back draft arched into the bright, sunlit sky and carried people’s shoes, personal belongings, chairs and other things from rooftop to rooftop and from one window to the other. I couldn’t have possibly known what I was looking at and that the surreal force behind the fire was very real and brutally destructive. The ominous event would also burn the circumstances of my fourth birthday into my memory as my young Aunts had reminded me that they would celebrate my birthday that week.

We are indebted to our distinguished friends, Professor Leah Rosenberg (Department of English) and Professor Margarita Vargas Betancourt, the librarian in charge at the George A. Smathers Libraries who keeps up the wonderful digitized collections there at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. They offered to share this newly digitized collection to help support our on-line web log of the Silver People and their part in the history and culture of Panama.

Thanks to them, we have been able to provide this excellent photo gallery of the life changing event that would help to substantiate our work in insisting that the Black West Indian population in both Colon and Panama City, as well as all the other Black Zone enclaves have had an important role in the building up of our modern-day Panama and have received very little recognition for their heritage and participation.

Enjoy the gallery and leave us your impressions!

3 responses to “The Great Colon Fire of 1940 – 74 Years Later

  1. Is there a list of victims’ names available?


    • We’ve checked with one of our sources, a Panama Tribune article of April 1940, and it states “Twelve thousand persons, most of whom are West Indians, were left homeless last Saturday as a devastating fire, the worst in the history of the Republic, swept through the city with raging force, killing several and injuring or incapacitating at least three hundred infortunates, destroying 293 houses in a 25 block area, and leaving general destructions and sufferings in its wake.” In another archival article from a newspaper, it mentioned that, thanks to the American Army firefighters, very few lives were lost. You can view a historical video of the fire here: Gran Incendio de Colón de 1940.


  2. Hi there, I’m trying to do some research on this fire. My grandfather was a fire official and trying to find any info on his life, David F. de Castro. Any help would be appreciated.


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