100 Years Ago

BROOKLYN, NY: July 1, 1908 -- Smoke from a fire believed to be incendiary in origin rose through the four-story brick tenement at 255 South First St. in Williamsburg. The cellar fire quickly filled the structure with choking smoke. Most of the building's tenants were asleep at the time of the early-morning fire and were aroused from their beds and fled for their lives. The fire escapes were overcrowded and firemen began picking people off with ladders. Two people were found unconscious on the second floor and were rescued by members of the Fire Patrol.


LAKE GEORGE, NY: July 1, 1908 -- Two hundred fifty guests in the Lake George Hotel were forced from their rooms as fire tore through the new hotel auditorium and convention hall building only 100 feet from the hotel proper. Flames broke out just after 11 P.M., when most of the guests were in bed. The fire building quickly filled with flames, sending thick smoke drifting across the hotel. Patrons in their nightclothes fled into the night, some dragging trunks and carrying valuables. As the wind shifted, the smoke and flames no longer imperiled the hotel and the guests. Many then watched from the comfort of their rooms as firemen battled the flames.

CLEVELAND: July 3, 1908 -- Seven people were killed and more than 30 seriously injured (including two who later died) by a fire in the S.S. Kregg's 5-and-10-cent store on Ontario Street. The fire followed an explosion of a fireworks display inside the store. A sparkler demonstration ignited nearby stock that set off the explosives. Hundreds of people fled in a panic as firemen arrived to the heavy fire, dense smoke and arching rockets. The fire and explosions cut off many shoppers, several of whom were trapped and suffocated by the smoke. People on the upper floors were pressed to the windows and some jumped before firemen could place ladders. Spectacular rescues were accomplished from upper-floor windows.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI: July 5, 1908 -- Four hundred buildings, including the courthouse and prison, were destroyed as a massive fire swept through the city. Flames ignited the arsenal, causing several devastating explosions. Citizens joined the exhausted firemen and battled the flames for several hours with little effect. Flames leaped from structure to structure and burned most of the city.

BOSTON: July 8, 1908 -- Fanned by a brisk wind, a fire believed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion swept through nearly a quarter of a mile of the harborfront of East Boston. Flames engulfed the yards of the Boston & Albany Railroad, four piers, several warehouses, a grain elevator, several lighters and barges, a large steamship and several other vessels. Flying embers ignited fire after fire before water sources could be secured.

CINCINNATI: July 11, 1908 -- Battling for their lives as well as the safety of the occupants of a tenement on Clay Street, firemen of Engine Company 7 had a terrific struggle with a deranged man as they attempted to battle a fire. Upon arrival, they found two rooms burning on the first floor and a man threatening them with a pair of shears. One fireman used an axe handle to disable the deranged man and clear a path for the hoseline. The man, a tailor with some serious problems, was believed to have ignited the blaze after stabbing himself with the shears. He then held firemen at bay until he was pacified with the axe handle.

GREENWICH, CT: July 17, 1908 -- Eight people were injured as fire burned through much of the business district. Two separate fires apparently started at the same time. One fire swept through 12 summer residences a mile from the major downtown blaze. A bonfire created by children accidentally ignited a paint shop at the rear of a stable and flames quickly spread to an adjacent grocery store. Within minutes, a carriage house was also burning. Mutual aid was requested as several commercial buildings caught fire and flames extended to nearby dwellings. Firemen rescued several children from a blazing four-story frame dwelling. The strong winds fanned the flames and fire began spreading at an alarming rate. Exhausted firemen made a stand at the post office and worked for an hour to bring the fire under control.

NEW YORK CITY: July 26, 1908 -- Twenty-five firemen were overcome by gas and smoke during a cellar fire in the Northern Bank of New York at Broadway and Fourth Street in Manhattan. The smoky fire was proving extremely dangerous and difficult to extinguish as fireman after fireman went down, unconscious from the noxious smoke. The sidewalk was lined with unconscious men as multiple-alarm units arrived. Company after company pressed into the wall of smoke, each gaining only feet at a time. The cellar began filling with water, making drowning a serious hazard. For more than an hour, the smoke and heat were battled until the fire was finally extinguished.

PAUL HASHAGEN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY 1865-2000: Millennium Book, a history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.