Rekindles: April 1999

If a significant fire or other emergency occurred 100 years ago in your community, or if your fire department's 100th anniversary is coming up, please drop us a line for possible inclusion in "Rekindles" in an upcoming issue.

April 1, 1899: SAN FRANCISCO - The four-story brick building at 18-22 Fremont St. caught fire during the night and was filled with flames when firemen arrived. The structure, housing the Miller, Schloss and Scott hardware house, was one of the largest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. Almost the entire fire department was needed to stop the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings. The loss was estimated at $400,000.

April 1, 1899: YONKERS, NY - A gas explosion tore through a former police station at 10 Dock St. that was being used as government offices. A building inspector and the commissioner of charities were seriously burned. The inspector smelled gas and traced its source to a vault area in the cellar. Unfortunately, he then struck a match.

April 3, 1899: WORCESTER, MA - Fire broke out in the cellar of the Chase Building on Front Street during the afternoon hours. While responding to the scene, a fire engine collided with an electric streetcar, seriously injuring the motorman. The fire spread slightly to the two adjoining stores before being brought under control.

April 4, 1899: DUNDEE, NY - A blaze broke out in a furniture store during the night and spread quickly. The flames were battled as they extended to a bakery and a hardware store. Firemen had just reached their beds when the alarm was again sounded at 6 A.M. They arrived to find the Methodist Church across the street from the previous building fire fully involved. The church was a total loss.

April 5, 1899: CHICAGO - The plumes of a feathered Easter bonnet came into contact with the flame of a cigar lighter in a drugstore on the corner of State and Madison streets. Instantly, the bonnet went up in flames and its wearer sent up hysterical screams as she saw the reflection of the conflagration atop her head in a glass. The clerk bounded over the counter and extinguished the fire with the stream from a seltzer bottle.

April 5, 1899: HAMMONTON, NJ - A fire appeared in the First Methodist Church during services. The pastor called for the calm exit of the congregation. The evacuation went smoothly until the wooden church began to burn briskly. All people were able to leave safely.

April 6, 1899: NEW YORK CITY - Twelve people were killed as flames swept their home on East 67th Street in Manhattan. Three alarms were transmitted to control the blaze. Fire was extending to the exposures on both sides as firemen pushed in. One fireman was injured after falling through the floors. The fire was battled for more than two hours.

April 6, 1899: READING, PA - A major blaze occurred in the Hershey Building, occupied by the Lancaster Carmel Factory. The fire also extended into the hardware dealer next door before it could be extinguished. Damage to the candy company exceeded $100,000.

April 12, 1899: ROCHESTER, NY - An early-morning fire in a warehouse and elevator caused firefighters considerable difficulty. Flames quickly spread to nearby railroad freight cars, some filled with grain and others empty. Flying embers landed on numerous neighborhood homes, igniting several serious fires.

April 13, 1899: BOSTON - A fire started on the Tremont Avenue side of the city's oldest playhouse, The Boston Museum. The blaze, believed caused by a careless smoker, caused three alarms to be transmitted. Firemen were able to hold the fire to the museum area. Firemen were able to save a valuable portrait of George Washington and other expensive paintings.

April 15, 1899: CLEVELAND - Nearly half the block of commercial buildings bounded by Lake, Bank, Academy and St. Clair streets were wiped out by an afternoon fire. The blaze began in the second floor of a straw-goods factory filled with workers. Within a few minutes, the entire structure was a sheet of flames and was extending to several buildings at the same time. Nearly the entire fire department responded as flames leaped from building to building. Several people were injured and as many as 300 were able to exit over the fire escapes.

April 25, 1899: PHILADELPHIA - An explosion of 75 gallons of benzoline tore through the two-story laboratory at the Frank H. Fleer & Co. chewing gum factory. Two men were killed and many injured. Buildings adjoining the structure on both sides were leveled by the explosion. Arriving firemen were faced with a growing fire situation, several collapsed buildings and numerous injured civilians. One worker was blown through the roof and landed, unconscious, on another building.



"Idle Hour," the country home of William K. Vanderbilt Jr., caught fire during the early morning hours. The huge Queen Anne home was surrounded by a large amount of property and was protected by a tall iron fence with two large gates. It was situated near the Long Island Sound in a wealthy area of Long Island, NY, overlooking the Connetquot River, over 100 yards away.

The blaze broke out at about 3:45 A.M. while the son of the owner and his bride, on their honeymoon, were sleeping. The rest of the household staff of 12 servants were also fast asleep. The fire seemed to start near the furnace in the cellar underneath the home's library. A watchman noticed the fire and roused the sleeping occupants, who had to run for their lives.

Meanwhile, an estate employee galloped on horseback westward to East Islip, shouting "Fire! Fire!" The local volunteer firehouse was locked, but the blacksmith next door was awakened by the alarm. His son ran and opened the building while the blacksmith rang the town's fire bell. The remainder of the volunteers responded and started out toward the burning estate. Also summoned were the Sayville firemen, whose hose wagon was first on the scene. They were quickly followed by the East Islip fire chief and his 20 men and apparatus, then by the Sayville ladder company.

Unfortunately, with the delayed alarm, the long distance to travel, the locked gates and defects in the 1,000 feet of fire hose stored on the estate, there was little the firemen could do. The large wooden house was a wall of fire. The radiant heat defied the streams of water being delivered by the firemen.

By 6:30 A.M., firemen were wetting down the ashes of the once splendid home. Only two chimneys stood amid the smoldering rubble. The loss of the structure, a valuable library, family heirlooms and paintings, was estimated at $250,000 to $300,000. Speculation as to the causes ranged from arson to a defective flue.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen