CALIFORNIA BRUSH FIRE HAZARD WORST IN TWENTY YEARS
Precautions Being Taken to Meet Extreme Conditions Now Being Encountered
WHILE the midwest and other parts of the United States scraped off the mud left by devastating floods or prepared to meet the ravages of new ones caused by heavy, unseasonable rains, California’s Governor Earl Warren appointed a special committee to conduct an intensified fire prevention campaign to make the public conscious of the dangers of what may be the state’s worst outdoor fire season in twenty years.
The action followed reports from California Fire Marshal Joseph Yockers and Warren T. Hannum, director of natural resources in the state, that the number of fires already was above normal and that “the worst is yet to come.”
Hannum, who together with Yockers and Edgar E. Lampton, state director of motor vehicles, was appointed to the special fire prevention committee, reported to the governor on July 1 that “extreme tire weather conditions” from June 19 through the 24th had resulted in 324 fires in state forestry protected areas during the six-day period alone.
Marshal Yockers pointed up the dangers confronting the state’s watersheds, forests and grazing lands with figures showing the lack of rainfall during the past season and by asserting the fire suppression services were handicapped by a lack of manpower.
Few points in the state received normal rainfall this year. In the Bay Area, for example, San Francisco had 15 inches of rain for the season while the normal fall is a little over 22 inches. Some points in the rich San Joaquin Valley which normally receive seven to twelve inches annually were anywhere from one to six inches short on rain.
Yockers said a most dangerous situation exists because fire hazards, which usually become extreme in September through November when the rainy season begins, this year became acute two months early. He said that not only is manpower scarce hut that high school and college youths employed for the summer as state fire fighters will return to school after Labor Day. In addition, Yockers pointed to the fact that many military installations have been liquidated so that the state can no longer depend on the military for manpower in cases of emergency as it did during the war years.
It was also learned from other sources that the state is in dire need of “the right kind” of fire fighting equipment, equipment which it could not get during the war.
On the heels of the committee appointments, a holiday outburst of brush and forest fires in the midst of record Fourth of July travel spewed smoke over much of Southern California, did damage estimated at more than a million dollars as they burned over some 20.000 acres, destroyed 50 to 100 dwellings of all types and made 200 persons homeless.
Hardest hit was the Chatsworth Manor section in the foothills above the San Fernando Valley where fire razed 37 dwellings as it blazed over 1.300 acres and crawled to within a half mile of the center of the little community.
Other fires struck in the Laguna Mountains east of San Diego where more than 15,000 acres were involved; in San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara Counties and in numerous places in Los Angeles County.
One fire closed temporarily the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon into which some 20.000 persons had driven tor the long weekend. Another threatened the large plant of the American Cyanamid Corporation near Azuza where poison gas is produced for the San Quentin Prison gas chamber.
Fire hose and portable pumps were flown into the Los Padres National Forest to quell a blaze there.
At Chatsworth, the Red Cross went into action, setting up an emergency station in a school house, passing out blankets and food. So quickly did the flames sweep through the brush that many lost all their possessions. Trucks stood by to evacuate others.
Los Angeles County Fire Warden Spence D. Turner and other fire officials in the various areas used two-way radio and walkie-talkies to direct the army of regulars and volunteers who fought the early season fires.
Low humidity, temperatures in the nineties and high winds contributed to the fast spread of the fires.
As the holiday came to an end. dying winds and slowly rising humidity offered weary fire fighters a respite.
In the northern part of the state several fires threatened extensive damage, but were extinguished without structural loss. One of these crept to the edge of the huge Army Air Base at Suisun-Fairfield before it was brought under control.
In the San Francisco Bay Area a ban was placed on outside fires for several days while unusually high and dry winds swept the region. In San Francisco and surrounding territory, grass fires kept firemen on the move night and day, mainly because the early dry season precluded burning off dry vegetation by the fire department.
York Has Third Major Fire in Three Months
Fire which devastated the three-quarter block plant of York-Shipley, Inc., in York, Pa., makers of oil burners, threatened a wide residential area and gave the city’s volunteer fire department a hard night-long battle before it was controlled, with loss reported at $800,000.
It was the third major fire in York in three months. Four firemen were injured, none critically.
The fire was discovered in the boiler room of the rambling two-story plant about 11:00 P.M. and spread rapidly to a paint shop, thence through the entire factory, which is located on Poplar Street, near Belvedere Avenue, about six blocks from the center of the city. All firemen were quickly called and help was asked of West Y orkboro and Grantley.
Sparks and flaming embers from the spreading blaze were carried on the breeze over a wide area and residents utilized garden hose to wet down combustible roofs of their homes. Several hundred left their homes for fear the fire would spread. Firemen, however, were able to prevent serious extension of the blaze although little of the combustible factory could be saved.
Fire-fighting operations were in charge of Fire Chief Ellis Wagner. Twenty-five pieces of apparatus worked at the scene at the fire’s peak.
It is said the fire, and the two that preceded it, were instrumental in hastening the plans for increasing the effectiveness of the York Fire Department which is reported one of the largest volunteer organizations in point of personnel in the state.
Columbus Has Costly Fire
For the second time in two years, fire destroyed the milling section of the Gwinn Milling Co., in Columbus, Ohio, with loss of $500,000. Every fireman on duty in the city was called to the general alarm blaze.
A construction company had completed work on the 5-to-7-story building at 1905 1.. Main Street only two hours before the fire to repair the damage done by the million dollar general alarm blaze of twenty months ago.
1 he fire broke out at midnight, apparently on the first floor of the milling section of the plant, caused, it is said, by an explosion in a micro-pulverizer. The flames spread rapidly and soon engulfed the entire building, despite the efforts of all available fire fighters summoned on multiple alarms.
Firemen, under Fire Chief Clarence W. Ogborn, were hampered by intense beat, falling walls and low water pres sure, the latter resulting from a defective pump at the municipal waterworks. C rowds of curious spectators which broke the police cordons also hindered operations.
The fire swept up an elevator shaft soon after it started, driving the fiveman night crew from the structure, and spread so rapidly that it was out of control by the time first due firemen were on the scene.
The first alarm was received by the fire department at 12:18 A.M.; the see ond, third and fourth followed at 12:2(1. 12:22 and 12:25 A. M., respectively. The general alarm was sounded at 12:45 (Continued on page 680) A.M. There were twenty-five pieces of apparatus in operation. All off-duty firemen were summoned to their stations.
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The wisdom of having reserves was demonstrated when the department was called upon to fight two other fires while the Gwinn blaze was in progress. At 1:23 A.M. equipment was dispatched to control a fire in Hoffman’s restaurant and at 4:55 A.M. apparatus was sent to the Big Bear Store, Parsons Avenue, where an awning burned.
Eighteen firemen narrowly escaped injury when the rear wall of the Gwinn building fell: the rear of a ladder truck was damaged by flying bricks. No firemen, however, were injured but a night watchman was seriously burned and died the next day.
Efforts of the firemen were successful in preventing extension of the fire to the company’s large elevators. The property loss was estimated at §500,000. The origin of the blaze is being investigated by Chief Ogborn and Battalion Chief Elmer J. Brophy head of the Fire Prevention Bureau.