BIG FIRE IN THE BUSINESS CENTRE OF PITTSBURG
Specially Reported for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING
The Derby Desk company has been singularly unfortunate in the way of fires; but it has not suffered from a worse visitation than that of February 25, in the Hay’s building, Pittsburg, in which the company conducted its business. This building was six-story and of brick and steel. It stood at 819 Liberty avenue and occupied a space of 60 ft. on Liberty street and 120 ft. back to a 16-ft. alley—Exchange alley—on the other side of which was a ten and fourteen-story structure fronting on Penn avenue. The adjoining building, at 815-17, which was also gutted, was of the same height and was occupied by the Baker Office Furniture company. One building was new; the other was about thirty years old. flic Grier Bush company at 813 and the Second National bank at Ninth and Liberty street were also damaged. All formed a part of a six-story row and all were of similar style. The fire, which probably arose from the spontaneous combustion of greasy rags in the cellar near the elevator, must have been burning for some time before it was discovered. and the elevator had served as a flue, up which the flames had made their way to the roof, which was ablaze when the fire department reached the scene. Four alarms were turned in. which brought out fifteen engines of various makes, two water towers, four aerial trucks and a chemical engine. There were thirty hydrants available set on a 24-in. main on Liberty street, which is 60 ft. wide at that point. Each hydrant had a 4 1/2-in. outlet, the pressure throughout being from 60 to 80 lbs. No hydrant streams were thrown, the sixteen streams employed being thrown simultaneously from the engines, the nozzles used being from 1 ½-in. up to 2 1/4-in. and the hose Eureka, rubber-lined. The supply of water from the gravity system was abundant and kept going engines, water tower and the turrets on the hose wagons. The combustible contents of the two buildings, desks, furniture and the like, caused a very hot fire; yet, if the water tower had not become disabled early in the fight, the probabilities are that the flames would have been earlier under control. The tower, with a smaller turret arrangement, was in front of the building, as was a hook and ladder truck. The crew of the latter ran up a ladder to the top of the building. and some of the men climbed in at the windows with the hose, only to he driven back more than once by the fierceness of the flames. Accompanied by an engine crew, however, they managed to get to the top of the’ Baker building, adjoining. where they held their ground successfully for some time, till they were dislodged by the flames which assailed them from the rear. A light north wind drove the flames in the direction of the firemen ; hut they stood firm and made several attempts to get a line of hose up, and had nearly succeeded, when the rope carrying the hose broke and foiled their endeavors. They tried again; but by this time the flames, which were raging immediately over their heads, forced them to retreat to the other side, where they once more attempted to get up a line of hose, but had barely time to get away before the fire was sweeping over the spot on which they had been standing. Just then the big water tower toppled over, barely missing some of the men, who then ran a line of hose up to the top of the Academy of Music and did good work. The small turret nozzle, also, operated unceasingly, and at this point four streams of water were kept playing on the flames. In the rear three engine companies kept throwing seven streams from the windows of the Westinghouse building, on the other side of Exchange alley and not more than fifteen or twenty feet distant from the burning buildings. In front, engines were stationed all along Seventh avenue, Liberty avenue, Wood street and down Ninth street. It was seen early in the day that the Derby building was doomed, and the hope that the Baker building would he saved was quickly done away with. All the department could do was to save the adjoining property. In this they were measurably successful, as comparatively little damage was done to the Second National hank and the Grier-Bush Furniture company’s building. The first got off better than the other, although it stood immediately next to the Hays building, where the fire started. While the men were working their hardest to save the bank building. Chief Humphreys, who had never rested for a moment and seemed to have eyes all over him, detected a “sympathetic” fire on the top of the Seventh Avenue hotel, caused, it is thought, by crossed wires. He rushed some men to its assistance, and speedily had the blaze out. The fire visited four office buildings, the Academy of Music, an hotel and a bank sufficient variety for one day. Notwithstanding the difficulties the firemen had to contend against from electrical wires and the close quarters at which they had to fight the flames, they succeeded marvelously well in practically confining the flames to the two buildings, and by their skill averted what would otherwise have been a disastrous conflagration. Their work showed more and more their excellent discipline and the skill and intelligent operations of their officers. And though the loss was heavy—some $250,000— it might easily have run up into much higher figures. There was no loss of life, but six or more firemen and others were more or less seriously injured. The toppling over of the water tower was one of those unavoidable accidents that will happen just at the wrong time. A slight shift of the tower was being made during the fire, when the party manipulating it allowed it to get beyond its proper angle, to an almost upright or straight vertical position. As a consequence, the “back pressure” of the water upon the lines pulled it over. In falling, the tower caught on a lire escape of a building and stopped before it toppled over completely. In falling, also, it came in contact with, and broke some high-potential trolley wires, and for a few seconds there was quite an electrical display. One of the handles used to elevate the tower became imbedded in the street; the current went through the machine, followed the handle to the ground, and thus fortunately relieved all immediate danger. The current was subsequently cut off. The tower received but slight damage. Only the tube was bent, and that has been straightened out.