Rekindles: January 1999

Jan. 1, 1899: ELIZABETH, NJ

Jan. 1, 1899: NEW YORK CITY - A candle left burning on a Christmas tree ignited a fire that destroyed a double tenement house at 754-756 First Ave. in Manhattan. The building was crowded with tenants when the flames broke out and numerous people were trapped by the thick smoke and heat. Firemen from Ladder 2 made several rescues over their 85-foot aerial ladder. Members of Engine 21 were also able to remove trapped occupants by swinging them by ropes to adjoining buildings. Despite the valiant efforts of the firemen, one child died in the fire.

Jan. 1, 1899: NEW YORK CITY - While responding to a reported building fire, the valve on Engine 58's steamer exploded, causing the team of horses to run at top speed due to fright. For two blocks the driver struggled to control two panicked horses to no avail. After narrowly missing a streetcar, the engine began to roll over as the wild horses turned a corner. Firemen jumped for their lives as the rig flipped over and crashed. One horse was killed and two others bolted from the scene. Reports stated that the horses then ran to the East River and jumped in. This was proved to be incorrect when the two horses were later found wandering the streets.

Jan. 6, 1899: BROOKLYN, NY - An off-duty fire officer spotted a blaze in St. George's Church at Marcy and Gates avenues and quickly turned in the alarm. At the alarm box he watched in amazement as the flames spread rapidly due to the evergreen holiday decorations still covering the church's interior. The officer transmitted a second, then a third alarm prior to the arrival of the first-due units. The roof of the church caved in as firemen pushed hoselines inside, but miraculously no one was injured. The church was severely damaged, but the firemen prevented a total loss.

Jan. 7, 1899: WILLIAMSPORT, MD - An exploding oil lamp in a house filled one room with flames and trapped three sleeping children. More than 100 volunteers arrived and began a bucket brigade in an attempt to extinguish the blaze. Three men attempted to enter the burning structure, but they were were driven back by the dense smoke and extreme heat. With a cry, the mother of the trapped children pulled free from the grasp of friends and dashed into the burning house. She reappeared a few moments later with the three children in her arms. Although she was severely burned on the hands, neck and face, she had saved her children.

Jan. 9, 1899: VERONA, NJ - Flames broke out in the Newark City Home, a reformatory, and routed more than 300 inmates. Under close supervision more than 20 of the more "trustworthy" boys re-entered the burning building and began to salvage what they could. Bedding, books and furnishings were carried out or tossed from the windows. Neighbors from the nearby farms aided in the work until the fire became so bad everyone was driven back. With no firefighting equipment available the spectators watched as the the brick structure burned to the ground.

Jan. 11, 1899: CAMBRIDGE, MA - A bomb exploded in the Sanders Theater during a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The explosion stopped the concert and the 600 people were calmly led from the auditorium with no injuries. Later investigations advanced a theory that the small explosive device had been set to go off during the following morning's history class, not during the concert.

Jan. 20, 1899: BRIDGEPORT, CT - An accidental fire caused by workers swept through the winter quarters of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Thirty railcars were destroyed as the flames jumped from one to the next. It was believed that the damage would delay the start of the spring tour by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Time Capsule

Spontaneous Combustion Fire Destroys Chicago Car Barn

A pile of oily rags burst into flames on the floor of the Devon Avenue car barns in Chicago at about 3 P.M. on Jan. 26, 1922.

The car barns building was one story, 125 by 985 feet; the ceilings were 23 feet high and a fire wall separated the building into two sections. Flames poured from a pit beneath one of the numerous new streetcars being painted inside the structure. Flames leaped from car to car and the fire was soon burning out of control. With the building being at the northern end of the city most of the fire apparatus had a long response to the scene.

First-arriving Ladder 25 entered the building and made terrific efforts to control the blaze. The fire doors between the two sections of the building had failed to close and fire was threatening this area. Under extreme heat conditions the seven men of the company closed the series of fire doors, cutting off the sure advance of the fire to this area. The truck company officer received burns to his hands and face during this operation.

Four alarms brought 75 firemen manning eight engines, three ladders and three squads to the scene. One engine had traveled nearly six miles to the scene of the fire. Strong winds fanned the flames and caused the flying brands pouring from the building to start several fires some distance from the original building. Losses were estimated at $1.5 million.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen