Rekindles: April 1997

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

April 1, 1897: CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS, PA Fire broke out at about 10:30 A.M. in a Main Street notions store and began to spread quickly. With no fire department yet organized in the small resort town, calls were sent to Meadville, Correy and Union City. The fire companies arrived quickly but flames were leaping from one wooden building to the next. More than 30 business houses and a dozen residences were destroyed in the fire. One man rushed into his burning store to retrieve some valuables and was killed when the flaming structure collapsed.

April 1, 1897: NEW YORK CITY A fire in a wing of the Manhattan State Mental Hospital, on small Wards Island in the East River, left 380 patients temporarily homeless. Damage was estimated at approximately $100,000. Some patients were sent to various locations for temporary housing.

April 8, 1897: KNOXVILLE, TN Flames and dense smoke pushed through the five-story Hotel Knox, trapping many guests. Sixty-mph winds drove the fire into a nearby hardware store, causing a dynamite explosion. Many people were injured by flying glass and bricks. When radiant heat ignited the exposure on the other side, the fire department called for mutual aid. Chattanooga sent an engine on a railroad flatcar that covered the 111 miles in 115 minutes. A woman and her baby were rescued by Knoxville firemen from the blazing hotel after the woman refused to jump into a life net. A cannon was used to blast down the walls of one building to stop the spread of fire. Of the 52 guests asleep at the time of the fire, only 35 were accounted for by the following day.

April 14, 1897: KANSAS CITY, MO Firemen responded to a blaze in the five-story brick building on Walnut Street across the street from the fire department's central station. The Scarritt Block burned fiercely for more than an hour and a half. Firefighters struggled to stop the extension to other large buildings nearby, and won their exhausting battle.

April 15, 1897: NEW ORLEANS The Moresque Building on Camp Street between Poindras and North streets caught fire during the night. The structure was occupied by a furniture company and a crockery business. The original fire building was destroyed and flames soon spread to several other businesses, including the Washington Hotel and the Warren Hotel and Saloon.

April 23, 1897: WHITNEY'S POINT, NY A late-night fire swept through this small town and destroyed more than half of its buildings. The loss was valued at more than $250,000. Among the buildings lost to the flames was the fire engine house.

April 27, 1897: NEWPORT NEWS, VA An early-morning fire on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad piers caused numerous injuries and more than $2 million in damage. The heroic work of firemen stopped the flames from spreading to a large grain elevator. Firefighters and trainmen worked together to pull down the flaming conveyors with a locomotive.

April 29, 1897: PITTSBURGH A photographer's flash pan ignited drapes hung from the ceiling of the dining room in the Monongahela House. The room, decorated for a banquet in honor of President Ulysses Grant, was ablaze in seconds. Quick work extinguished the fire and only the decorations, a painting of Grant and an American flag were destroyed. After 90 minutes of frantic cleaning and redecorating, 324 guests enjoyed the banquet.

CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION: Bernardsville, NJ, Fire Company 1 was founded in April 1897 with 30 men, 12 water buckets and "a long ladder."

MILESTONE: The Freehold, NJ, Fire Department celebrates its 125 anniversary in April 1997. The department was organized on April 20, 1872, by Charles F. Richardson, considered the department's founding father, and seven other charter members. On March 11, 1897, the stables behind the American Hotel on East Main Street were destroyed by a fire that killed three horses and consumed a great quantity of feed, harnesses and supplies. Smoke was dense and hung near the ground while Hulse Hose and Monmouth Hose laid out their lines from plugs in front of the county courthouse. Steamer Company 1 and C.F. Richardson Steamer Company 2 also were in service.


Earthquake and Fire: San Francisco April 18,1906

Firemen in the San Francisco Fire Department were sound asleep at 5 o'clock on that fateful morning. Many were resting after putting up an exhausting battle against a warehouse fire that had gone to three alarms the night before. A rumble that grew in intensity began to approach the city. Then, for 48 seconds, the city was rocked by an earthquake that would reach 8.25 on the Richter scale. Across San Francisco, a city of wooden buildings, kerosene lamps were crashing onto floors and setting fire to the already damaged structures.

South of Market Street, the wood-frame houses of the tenement district were collapsing from the tremors. Buildings filled with people were leaning on each other like stacks of playing cards waiting to fall. A building wall collapsed on Ladder 1 and killed a fireman before he could even turn out the company.

Across the city, firemen dug out their comrades and salvaged their fire apparatus, then ventured out into the smoke-filled streets. More than 600 firefighters began battling the scores of blazing buildings. Chief of Department Dennis T. Sullivan was killed during the initial stages of the quake, leaving his assistant, John Dougherty, in charge of the firefighting and the rescue effort.

Many small fires merged and created large firefronts that burned for two days. On the third day, firemen from other California cities helped make a stand at Van Ness Avenue, which was widened by use of dynamite to make a fire break. The men held this position for 10 hours.

Smaller fires were still being fought four days after the quake, when a heavy rain finally helped exhausted firemen with "hydraulic overhauling." Four hundred seventy-eight people were killed, 28,000 buildings were destroyed, with damage of $350,000,000, and five square miles of the city were in rubble; but the fires were finally out.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen