Big Mill Burns in Decatur.
On Monday, June 7, at 11:45 p. m., Decatur, I11., was visited by the most destructive fire in the history of the city.
The plant of the Decatur Cereal company, with the exception of the power plant, was completely consumed, and one fireman lost his life. This plant was the largest corn-grinding mill in the world, and was located between two branches of the Wabash railroad on a V-shaped plot of ground, with Vandyke street about 100 ft. to the west and Eldorado street about the same distance to the south. The office building fronted on this street and was not touched by the fire. The mill proper was a 6-story and cupola building of brick, and was immediately joined on the south by a warehouse of the same construction 4-stories high. Just to the north, at a distance of 20 ft., was an immense elevator 125 ft. high, of the usual timber and corrugated iron construction; and just to the west of the elevator was the power plant.
The fire originated on the sixth floor, in the drying room, and by the time the fn*st pieces of tire apparatus had traveled the mile to the plant the fire had reached the fifth floor and was coming out of the windows of the cupola.
The only available water supply was from a 6-in. main on Vandyke street, with one double 2½-⅛. opening, and one with two 2j4-in. and one steamer opening.
The two steamers, one a first-size Metropolitan, and the other a second-size Ahrens, were located at these two hydrants and two streams from the Ahrens and three from the Metropolitan were all the streams the department was able to get on the fire, and from the smallness of the main the greatest pressure available was 130 lb., and at times somewhat less.
Fireman John Sheehy was killed during the early part of the fire when the roof of the elevator fell. A short piece of 6×6 timber struck inside the building and bounded out through a window, striking him on the back of the head, killing him almost instantly. At the time of the accident he was at the southeast corner of the elevator, and between the elevator and the mill. Sheehy’ had been a member of the department since April 27. 1602, and was well liked by’ his companions and associates. The funeral was the most largely attended, and excited more interest and sympathy than any funeral ever held in the city. He leaves, besides an aged mother, a wife and four small children, ranging in age from six years to six months. The department worked on the fire until 1 :20 p. m., Tuesday.
The loss on the property is placed at $220,000. The insurance on the building was $100,000, and on the contents $68,000. The mill will be rebuilt at once.
According to the special report furnished FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING. The building was six stories high and only eighteen months old. It was constructed of brick, with an elevator of wood sheathed with iron. It had standpipes with hose on every floor, but likely there was no one capable of using the nozzle, or had no time to do so. before the smoke and heat made the sixth floor, on which it started, too hot to make the attempt. From the fact that it was in the drying room the fire broke out the origin may have been overheated connections that reached the wood in a weak place. The apparatus employed was almost ineffective for such a large building. The Metropolitan and Ahrens engines were capable of throwing three times as much Water as they were called upon to do. Such streams as one ⅝-in., three 1⅛ in. and one 1 ¾-in. were not ample to meet the emergency, especially when the supply was furnished through a 6-in. main, with 45 lb. pressure at the hydrants. There was sufficient room to make a good fight from the 60-ft. street in front of the building; but, with only two hydrants, a single and double, 4 and 6-in. respectively, no effective work could well be accomplished so that the loss ran up to the large total of nearly a quarter million dollars. Of the 3,500 ft. of Paragon hose used only two lengths burst through accident, one being run over by a freight car and one by a falling wall. The department was not equiped with any large nozzles which was a mistake. One good stream siamesed in a Mart turret nozzle would have been more effective than the five streams mentioned above. Chief C. W. Devore directed the operations with much judgment, and to his skill and the work of the men under him may be attributed the small loss.