A $2,000,000 Fire in Norfolk of Incendiary Origin
Chief R. F. McLaughlin and the men of the Norfolk, Va., fire department, assisted by the departments of Portsmouth and Suffolk, had their hands full in subduing a fire of incendiary origin recently, that destroyed over two million dollars’ worth of property before it was brought under control. One man was killed and a score more injured in a series of explosions and fires. The fire started before dawn in the old Granby Theatre in Granby street, and gained headway rapidly, as the firemen were handicapped by frozen fire hydrants, low water pressure, and near-zero temperature. It quickly spread to the Monticello Hotel and other buildings in the block. Three distinct explosions in as many buildings, one after the fire virtually had been under control, led to the general belief that the fires were caused by incendiaries. Falling floors and walls injured seven firemen and naval guards. One fireman, Charles McCoy, was killed and seven others were hurt in the collapse of an upper floor of the Monticello Hotel in the day, and later two firemen and several sailors were caught by a falling wall of the Lenox Building. Three were taken out badly hurt, but two others were left in the debris.
The firemen of Norfolk, Portsmouth and Suffolk departments, with organized sailor fire brigades, fought heroically amid ice and blinding smoke, and bluejackets led the rescue work when the firemen were trapped. Fires were built to thaw out the hydrants. Firemen looked on helpless while the big theatre burned. When water finally came, the pressure was so low that streams would not reach to the upper stories of the burning building, and the fire soon was beyond control. Reports as to the number of explosions varied. It was first said that the fire in the Granby Theatre had followed an explosion, tut Fire Chief McLaughlin and naval investigators announced that this was not the case. He said, however, that there had been three separate and distinct explosions. The first was in a cloak and hat shop near the Monticello. The second was on the sixth floor of that hotel after the first fire was practically under control, and the third in the Lenox Building, which later was destroyed. Just at dusk the fire in the Monticello broke out afresh and despite the work of the firemen the Lenox, Carpenter and Tazewell buildings, six story structures across the street, were wrecked. For a time the Naval Y. M. C. A. was threatened, but the wide lane separating it from the burning buildings enabled the firemen to save it and other large buildings near by. The fire swept district is but three blocks from the Elizabeth river waterfront on the north and five on the west. It is more than a mile from the Norfolk Navy Yard, which is located up the Elizabeth River in the western section of Portsmouth. In addition to the buildings destroyed the following firms were burned out or damaged by water: Halstead’s drug store. Southern Railway ticket office, Castelberg’s jewelry store, George W. Thomas’s shoe store, Shulman’s haberdashery, Meyers’s tailoring, Norfolk County Farms Company, Monticello barber shop, Truitt’s pharmacy, Norfolk Stationery Company, J. Thomas Shoe Company, Mme. Sutton, beauty specialist; Pekin, Chinese restaurant; Carpenter’s furniture store, D. Buchanan & Son, Inc., jewelry store, Galeski, optician; Southern Railway new ticket office, Sugy’s Oriental Shop, Chinese restaurant, second floor; third and fourth floors not occupied, but used for storage purposes; Nunally’s new candy store.