100 Years Ago

LONDON, ENGLAND: April 3, 1908

PEORIA, IL: April 3, 1908 - Flames tore through a six-story brick mill at the Corning & Co. distillery. The fire rapidly extended from the area of origin on the fourth floor and took hold of the entire 250-by-250-foot structure. A serious exposure problem developed as the fire threatened a tower adjoining the fire building. Firemen saved 125,000 gallons of spirits inside the tower.

LYNCHBURG, VA: April 3, 1908 - Four factories, three of which were tobacco plants, were left in smoldering ruins, the obvious work of arsonists. As more than a million pounds of tobacco went up in flames, rumors began that the fire was the work of "night riders."

CHELSEA, MA: April 12, 1908 - At 10:45 A.M., a fire started in a pile of rags in the rear of the Boston Blacking Co. Several flaming rags were lifted into the air and onto the roof, igniting the structure. A second alarm was immediately struck and the fire knocked down. As companies were about to leave, another fire was seen in a building 100 yards from the original fire area. The building was fully involved in minutes. Sparks and embers rained across scores of wooden structures that readily ignited and became a conflagration. Realizing the city was doomed if the flames could not be halted at Everett Avenue, Fire Chief Spencer called for aid from Boston, which was battling a separate two-alarm fire and could spare only four alarms of companies. Help from Cambridge, Everett, Haverhill, Lynn, Malden, Revere, Salem, Wakefield and Winthrop arrived by early afternoon. Thirteen churches, two hospitals, five banks, the public library, the City Hall, eight schoolhouses, 20 business blocks, 20 factories, and upwards of 300 tenements and dwellings were destroyed. In all, 3,000 buildings were in ruins, 1,800 people were homeless and 19 people lost their lives to the flames.

SOUTH NORWALK, CT: April 5, 1908 - The freight depot of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was destroyed as fire burned through the depot and 30 sealed freight cars alongside the structure. The loss was estimated at more than $100,000, but all the way bills and freight reports were consumed in the flames.

EAST ORANGE, NJ: April 15, 1908 - A fire accidentally started by a candle quickly engulfed a Hawthorne Place house, severely injuring the homeowner, who was burned while attempting to extinguish the flames. His shouts woke his daughter, who was asleep in her second-floor bedroom. She attempted to leave her room, only to find her escape route cut off by fire. As flames burned through the door, she climbed out a second-floor window and crawled across a narrow ledge for more than 30 feet until she could hop down to a porch roof. She was then removed to the ground by ladder.

LOS ANGELES, CA: April 16, 1908 - An explosion and fire at the Standard Oil Co. plant at Riverside caused a stampede of elephants being housed nearby by a circus. The terrified elephants raced into the streets and fled, killing one person and injuring several others. The animals were still at large and running wildly through the streets as fire companies rolled up to the blazing oil plant.

NEWARK, NJ: April 17, 1908 - For the fifth time in as many weeks and for the second time in two days, a large home on Halsey Street was the site of an incendiary fire. The latest fire burned the roof off the already badly damaged structure. At previous fires, large quantities of kerosene were found saturating the floors. With little to go on, the investigation continued.

METUCHEN, NJ: April 17, 1908 - Edward Busch, a member of the Hook & Ladder Company, was killed instantly as he began pulling the company's hose carriage to a reported fire. After taking several steps, Busch slipped, fell to the ground and was run over by the fire apparatus. The 43-year-old volunteer fireman was also the proprietor of the famed Metuchen Inn.

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.