IT HAPPENED IN FEBRUARY. Baltimore City, MD, Fire Chief August Emrich, his eyes bandaged due to smoke injuries, shakes hands with FDNY Battalion Chief John Howe as New York City firemen prepare to return home after helping battle the Great Baltimore Fire in February 1904.
Photo credit: Photo from Paul Hashagen Collection
CRANFORD, NJ: FEB. 3, 1912 – It was just after 3 o’clock in the morning when A.O. Hopkins, an upholsterer who lived in second-floor rooms in the Opera House, the largest building in town, found heavy smoke in the hallways and woke the janitor, Louis Nahf, who was also a fireman. Nahf immediately turned in the alarm to the local combination paid and on-call fire department. Realizing the advanced stage of the fire upon arrival, Chief Louis Hess requested help from Westfield and Elizabeth. In addition to a large auditorium, the Opera House housed stores and offices. At the height of the fire, an explosion inside a hardware store rocked the block. Firemen continued bravely battling the blaze and confined the fire to the original building, saving nearby homes and structures.
PHILADELPHIA, PA: FEB. 4, 1912 – A fire that started in a factory at Franklin and Vine streets communicated to the adjoining box factory. The two buildings quickly filled with flames and radiant heat ignited the Majestic Hotel across the street. A general alarm brought 48 engines to the scene as the fire swept into three theatrical boarding houses and moving picture and vaudeville houses. Actors along the row of boarding houses filled trunks with their belongings and hurried into the street. It was feared the fire would take the entire block, but exhausted firemen stopped the spreading flames.
MOLINE, IL: FEB. 6, 1912 – Two firemen were injured battling a blaze in a mill machinery works. The fire began in a boiler room and spread to piles of shavings nearby. Workers attempted to enter the burning mill to retrieve their tools, but were driven back by the heat. The two firemen were injured when a smokestack fell on them. The blaze left 400 people without jobs and the business owners lost a half-million dollars.
JENKINTOWN, PA: FEB. 6, 1912 – A large house at Spring Avenue and York Road caught fire and required the response of the local city firemen and help from adjacent communities. The flames were spreading quickly, pushed by a strong wind. Firemen struggled for more than two hours to gain the upper hand. Valuable paintings were damaged by smoke and water.
NEW YORK CITY: FEB. 9, 1912 – Seven firemen were overcome by gas while battling a fire in a subcellar of a building at William and Spruce streets. The subcellar was being used as the pressroom for the weekly German-language newspaper Staats-Zeitung. The flames caused gas pipes to leak and the accumulating gases knocked the attacking firemen unconscious. Rescuers had great difficulty entering the gas-filled rooms, but dragged the trapped men out one by one. Several of those saved had to be resuscitated in the street.
PITTSFIELD, MA: FEB. 9, 1912 – The second major fire in two weeks brought the entire fire department to the business section of town during the night. The fire, sparked by defective wiring, broke out on the second floor of a furniture store and spread rapidly. Faced with near-zero temperatures, firemen struggled as the fire jumped from building to building. In all, five stores were destroyed and three people were injured.
OGDENSBURG, NY: FEB. 11, 1912 – Firemen rolled out to a fire at a jewelry store with temperatures of 20 degrees below zero. For eight hours, the ice-encrusted firemen battled the flames and severe temperatures. Flames swept the entire block of buildings, including jewelers, legal firms, an optician, a real estate office, a Masonic Temple, a dry-goods store and a five-and-dime store.
ST. PAUL, MN: FEB. 19, 1912 – Fire was discovered in the Grand Opera House at Sixth and St. Peter streets at 1:40 A.M. Firemen battled the blaze for more than a hour. Members were operating a hose from a ladder when the ladder suddenly fell. Lieutenant John Thome of Engine 9 was killed and Pipeman Miles McDonahugh was injured.
HOUSTON, TX: FEB. 21, 1912 – A fire that began in an untenanted rooming house and driven by gale-force winds spread with amazing speed. A dozen industrial plants, 200 dwellings and stores of 55,000 bales of cotton were soon in flames. Also engulfed were 36 railcars. A path of destruction 1½ miles long and a half-mile wide burned across the city. Flaming shingles rained across the city and firemen struggled to halt the marching wall of flames. Time after time, the roof of the oil plant caught fire, but was extinguished. When the smoke cleared, the worst fire in the history of the city had destroyed more than $7 million in property and left 1,000 people homeless.