Rekindles: November 1996

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.

Nov. 3, 1896: JERSEY CITY, NJ Following the election of William McKinley as president of the United States, citizens across the country celebrated by partying around bonfires. One such bonfire was ablaze on Poplar Street when an 11-year-old girl who was standing too close became engulfed after wind-blown flames came in contact with her dress. Other people were able to extinguish the flaming clothes but the girl's face and scalp were burned.

Nov. 4, 1896: NEW YORK A post-election bonfire got out of control on East 134th Street in Manhattan. The blaze soon extended to a blacksmith shop and five other occupancies until it was brought under control.

Nov. 5, 1896: ST. LOUIS The Globe Theater was destroyed by a fast-moving fire. The stage manager was killed when he was forced to jump from a third-floor window. Flames also spread to the nearby Garner Hotel.

Nov. 6, 1896: CAMDEN, NJ Two children, ages 4 and 8, found some gunpowder and brought it home to play with. They placed the gunpowder in a stove with the intention of burning it when it suddenly exploded. Both children were seriously injured and the kitchen was soon on fire. The blaze was quickly doused but the children suffered severe burns, especially to their eyes and faces.

Nov. 7, 1896: CAMBRIDGEPORT, MA Firefighters faced a large fire in the Boston Bridge Co. building. The four-story structure was fully engulfed when a series of explosions occurred. The flames threatened the Standard Oil Works nearby but were held in check by firefighters.

Nov. 7, 1896: LONDON The Shand, Mason & Co. factory and storerooms caught fire and were badly damaged. The company, a maker of fire engines and other types of fire apparatus, lost 350 engines, two floats, 37,000 feet of hose and much valuable machinery and equipment.

Nov. 8, 1896: COLUMBUS, OH After battling a blaze in an East State Street structure, firemen were suspicious as to the cause and together with the police began to investigate the fire. After questioning, a woman and her male friend admitted to setting the fire in an attempt to collect insurance money.

Nov. 10, 1896: PERRINTON, MI A private home on a farm four miles south of town caught fire and trapped a farmer and his entire family. The farmer and his wife escaped with one of their children but three others were lost to the flames.

Nov. 10, 1896: DES MOINES, IA The Des Moines Turner Society's hall on Eighth Street burned during the afternoon. The fire began under the stage, while a class of children were exercising in the gym nearby. The flames spread so quickly it was extremely difficult to remove the children but all were taken to safety. Two firemen were severely injured when a brick chimney fell on them while they operated a hoseline.

Nov. 14, 1896: LEXINGTON, KY Nine horses of exceptional stock, including a mare that held the held the world pacing record, were destroyed by a fire of incendiary origin. The barn housing the valuable horses was quickly in ashes but a few horses were rescued by a trainer.

Nov. 15, 1896: SYRACUSE, NY Fire broke out in the Eureka Plaster Co. and quickly spread to a barn and nearby salt vats. One man was killed by the flames in the barn and firemen were hard pressed to stop the advancing blaze.

Nov. 17, 1896: MARION, IL A daytime fire destroyed an entire block of buildings, including a saddler, a general merchandise store, two saloons, a restaurant, the Parks Hotel, a livery stable and the F.S. Frye boot and shoe shop.

Nov. 20, 1896: COLD SPRING HARBOR, NY Burglars entered the Seaman and Bennett store and blew open the safe. The explosion set extra powder on fire, and the flames quickly spread to nearby flammables. As firemen and civilians responded toward the sounds of the explosion, the dazed burglars escaped the blazing building at gunpoint. Firemen stopped the flames from extending to other structures.


November 1872: Sickness Fells Boston's Fire Horses

In November 1872, the Boston Fire Department was enduring a severe bout with equine influenza. Many of the 93 horses the department relied on to transport its 21 engines, 10 hose wagons and two hook-and-ladders were too sick and weak to answer the alarm bells.

On Saturday evening, Nov. 9, fire alarms were transmitted for a blaze in a six-story building in the commercial section of the city. Radiant heat soon spread the fire to nearby structures and arriving firemen could do little to slow its progress due to poor water supply. (Chief Damrell had complained about the lack of water in the area but the city government failed to take any action.) With conditions deteriorating rapidly, Damrell sent out a call for mutual aid. Thirty departments from five states would respond.

For 18 hours, firemen battled the raging fire. The narrow streets became like blowtorches as flames leaped from building to building. As more firemen arrived, they were placed along three fronts and a stand was made, using 42 steam engines. By early Sunday afternoon, the fire was under control but despite the heroic efforts of many firefighters 13 people were dead nine of them were firemen. One square mile of the city was burned out and 776 buildings were destroyed. Losses totaled $75 million.

As a result of the fire, the department was reorganized under a Board of Commissioners. Companies in high-value sections of the city were manned with full-time paid firemen. New companies were organized and a fireboat went into service. Fire prevention efforts, building regulations and the water distribution system were improved.

Paul Hashagen

Flashback 1976

Jan. 4, 1976: WILDWOOD, NJ A fire that was apparently set by an arsonist did more than $1 million in damage to seven boardwalk stores.

Jan. 7, 1976: NEW YORK One firefighter was killed and another injured when the floor of a supermarket collapsed during a fire. This was the first of nine line-of-duty deaths suffered by the FDNY in 1976.

Feb. 2, 1976: BOSTON More than 300 firemen fought a general-alarm blaze in the Jamaica Plain section of the city. The loss was put at more than $1 million. Five firemen were injured.

Feb. 7, 1976: NEW YORK The first provisions of the city's new fire code for high-rise office buildings were scheduled to take effect. Local Law 5 was designed to remove the principal cause of fire deaths but an injunction was immediately brought against the city to stop the law, contending it was unfair and that the city itself was the biggest violator of the law. Eventually, the law was enacted.

March 31, 1976: NEPAL A fire destroyed $6 million in property and left at least 2,000 people homeless.

April 2, 1976: ST. LOUIS A fire that apparently started in an abandoned warehouse destroyed the surrounding buildings, then spread to two others. Secondary fires broke out on rooftops as far as a mile away as a result of high winds.

April 2, 1976: WORCESTER, MA A four-alarm arson fire took the lives of five people and injured five others.

May 3, 1976: BOSTON Boston Herald-American photographer Stanley Forman won a Pulitzer Prize for "Spot News Photography" for a sequence of pictures of a fire, including photos showing the five-story fall of a woman and her niece as a fire escape collapsed.

May 6, 1976: CLEVELAND Twenty-nine frame dwellings were ravaged by fire as firefighters battled flames and 40 mph winds. No injuries were reported.

June 16, 1976: CULVER CITY, CA At least one person was killed and 14 injured by an explosion and fire at a construction site after an underground fuel line was ruptured by a tractor. A block of buildings nearby was set ablaze by burning tar and debris from the blast.

June 16, 1976: VAN NUYS, CA Fifty people were treated as a result of a fire in a pool chemical supply store. Toxic chlorine fumes spread over a wide area.

July 1976: CHICAGO Two separate arson fires set two weeks apart took the lives of 13 people.

September 1976: Firehouse Magazine publishes its charter issue.

Oct. 29, 1976: SAKATA CITY, JAPAN Fire swept through the city, burning more than 1,000 buildings. There were no injuries.

Oct. 22, 1976: CROTONE, ITALY A fertilizer fire in the Montedison Chemical Co. forced the evacuation of thousands of workers and their children.

Oct. 24, 1976: NEW YORK A man who was thrown out of a social club after arguing with his wife returned and set the building on fire. Twenty-five people were killed and 24 were injured.

Oct. 26, 1976: TAMPA, FL A fire in an apartment tower required the evacuation of 300 elderly residents.

Nov. 19, 1976: LOS ANGELES An incendiary fire injured three firefighters in the Occidental Towers. A second fire was set in the sub-basement of another building in the complex.

Nov. 22, 1976: CHICAGO A firefighter is killed while battling a blaze in the Commonwealth Edison Plant.

Dec. 24, 1976: BARTLESVILLE, OK Wind-fed flames swept through the city, leaving more than 100 people homeless. The fire threatened to spread to an oil storage yard but was held back by firefighters.

Dec. 24, 1976: CHICAGO Twelve people, including at least eight children, died in an apartment house blaze on the city's Near West Side.

Paul Hashagen

Compiled by Paul Hashagen