BURNING OF THE HOTEL CASTLETON.
The burning, on the night of November 12, of the Staten Island hostelry, the Hotel Castleton, a noted landmark which faced the harbor of New York, adds yet another to the many similar buildings that have been destroyed by fire since the opening of the season of 1907. Like those which have shared the same fate, it was a frame building, and, when it went up in flame, it blazed like a gigantic torch and lit up the surrounding waters and the Narrows as if it were day. The hotel, which was built nearly on the top of the hill which overlooks St. George and its ferry, was finally closed on the Friday before, and only four persons, two styled “watchmen,” and two maids, supposed to be “caretakers,” were in the building, the destruction of which, save for two tall chimneys, was complete. It involved, also, that of an adjacent dwellinghouse and several trees that stood a considerable distance off. Six other residences were saved only by keeping them constantly wet. If the wind had.been high, the Curtis High school, a solid, handsome building, would have been seriously damaged, if not destroyed. As it was, the firemen had all theycould do to save it. For reasons best known to the “watchmen,” no alarm was sent in for finite twenty minutes after one of them had discovered the fire. They claim that during that time they were trying to put out the flames with chemical extinguishers: but, finding their efforts vain, they turned in an alarm. It was hard work for the fire apparatus, under Battalion Chief Callahan, who turned in a general alarm to get on the scene, with any degree of speed, owing to the steep hill which had to be surmounted, one engine in particular had a very hard time to avoid going precipitately down to the bottom and over the embankment into the railroad yards. Three horses tugged valiantly backwards, as the heavy machine forced them gradually down the hill, and the driver pluckily kept his seat and was able to stop by utilising a convenient stretch of sidewalk and lawn as a side track. Hose lines of great length were run out, and, in some cases, two engines were coupled up, in order to get enough pressure to produce a stream sufficiently powerful to wet down threatened roofs. The scarcity of water was a very serious handicap to the firemen, who, when they turned on the water^ found they could not send up a stream to the second of the four stories of the building, which covered an acre of ground and contained 400 rooms. They formed bucket brigades to no purpose, and were compelled to leave the hotel to its fate (it was already ruined), in order to save the adjoining property, in which, with the exception of one dwcllinghouse, they were successful. The New Yorker and several railway firetugs could do nothing, owing to the height of the building above the waterfront. What completed the destruction of the building was an explosion, presumably of gas, which blew out the whole of the front, leaving nothing but a mass of smouldering ruins. As the fire burned, the house of engine company No. 206, at No. 176 Broadway, West Brighton, whose men and apparatus were at the hotel blaze, took fire, as is said, from an overheated stove and was partly destroyed. From the enginehouse the flames spread to No. T“8, a two-story frame cottage, and made such rapid headway that the occupants had to escape in their night clothes. On the other side of the enginehouse there is a vacant lot, and next to that a two-story frame cottage, in which lived a woman and her family. Sparks set fire to it and to another on Prospect street, owned and occupied by Arthur Neusch. These losses were estimated as follows: Enginehouse, property of the city, $5,000; Parker cottage, $500; Seenan cottage, $2,500. Damage to Neusch’s house was trifling. Engine company No. 206, and two others, responded to the alarm sent out for the West Brighton fire. It was a long run from St. George, and, when the men of No. 206 got to the scene, they found themselves homeless. The loss on the hotel was close on $500,000—possibly it was even higher, as a number of valuable pictures were destroyed. There seems more than a suspicion that incendiarism on the part of a discharged employe was the cause of the disaster, and some go so far as to say that the fire in the enginehouse of No. 206 was also the work of a firebug, who wished to handicap the fire department in every way possible. But the whole of these statements are founded only on suspicion, probably groundless, so far as regards the enginehouse fire. The fire department has been most unjustly criticised. The men could not work miracles and did all that lay in their power to save property. They were handicapped in the beginning by the delay in turning in an alarm: the steep hill up which the horses had to haul the heavy apparatus was another difficulty; and the lack of hydrants was a third. The chief source of hampering their efforts was, of course, the lack of water, which undoubtedly was due in great measure to the work of a certain clique of politicians who have succeeded in restraining the city’s board of aldermen from solving the Staten Island water question—a problem which the authorities of the borough of Richmond and the city’s hoard of estimate has for a long time been endeavoring to solve. On this point the New York Word lis emphatic. It asks how long Mayor McClellan will allow this state of things to continue, and points out that the difference between the highest and the lowest bids for the construction of the Ashokan dam “would go far to give Staten Island a fair water supply. Richmond borough’s shortage of water cannot be due to the city’s shortage of funds.” Nor was the shortage of water “due to accident. Any day (it adds) the same thing may happen again. The city has taken over one water plant on Staten Island and would have closed the purchase of another long ago, but for the obstruction of a certain set in the board of aldermen. It proposes to collect water rents from the people of Staten Island and to collect taxes to pay for fire protection; but the water necessary for fire protection is not now available.” Commissioner of Water Supply John H. O’Brien states in reply that the “city has not yet taken over one of the private water plants on Staten Island. After three times rejecting the proposed purchase of the Staten Island Water company, the board of aldermen has finally voted to buy it; but the system is not yet in the possession of this department, as the purchase has not been completed. The city has engaged to buy the Crystal Y.ater company of Staten Island, but, because of obscurities in the title it is not yet city property, and the only municipal pumping plant on Staten Island today is that at Tottenville.” He adverts to the city’s contract with the Hudson County (in reality the East Jersey) Water company, to supply Staten Island with a minimum supply of 3,000,000 gals, of water a day, with the option of drawing 10,000,000 gals, a day, the water to be delivered on Staten Island within one year after the making of the contract. There was some delay he adds, on the part of the company in the filing of its bond, which will defer the time of delivery about six weeks. By this contract the water supply for Staten Island is increased 100 per cent.