California Fire Fighters Get Holiday Season Workout

California Fire Fighters Get Holiday Season Workout

FIRE fighters in Southern California received a first class workout during the Christmas-New Year’s season with a rash of multiple alarm fires.

First big alarm came on the morning of December 20 at 799 E. 18th St. in the heart of Los Angeles’ industrial area.

An oven in the Lewis Food Co. factory exploded enveloping the entire bakery in flames. The concern bakes Dr. Ross Dog Food.

By the time L.A.F.D. Engine 30 and Truck 30, the first-in companies arrived, the structure was fully involved and the flames were spreading to the company’s adjacent warehouse and to a small apartment house.

Additional units immediately were requested as a pillar of black smoke began rising through the city’s unusual smogfree air. Observers at television transmitters at far off Mt. Wilson spotted the loom up and called their L.A. offices for information.

Twin towers of black smoke loom up from Lewis Food Co. fire in Los Angeles' industrial district. Firemen on manifold rig at right prepare deck gun for action. Fire is also burning on other block to left where smoke rises.

Photo by Gene Hackley, L. A. Mirror Staff Photographer

Extent of Lewis Food Co. fire can be seen in this shot taken from roof of company water cooling tower looking west. Fire started in upper right section. Note chiefs on roof watching operations.

L. A. P. D. Photo

A fairly stiff wind gave the firemen a rough time at first, but efficient work by the L.A.F.D. crews managed to keep the fire from spreading into the processing part of the plant. Two small wooden homes were partially burned, and the wooden apartment structure also was saved.

Headquarters Asst. Chief Frank Winkler, Asst. Chief R. R. Robertson, and Acting Battalion Chief Lee R. Hosfeldt took charge of the fire.

Traffic in the busy industrial and commercial area was hopelessly jammed and every available motorcycle patrolman from the L.A. Police Department was ordered in to try and untangle the snarl.

Officials of the food company said that 133 employees managed to escape safely and added that damage would run in excess of $500,000.

Responding were Engines 10, 30, 9, 7, 23, 17, 14; Trucks 10 and 30; Salvage 14; Squad 23; HAC Chief Winkler; Division 3 Chief Robertson; and Batallion 5, Acting Chief Hosfeldt.

Two days later a fire broke out in the Los Angeles Tanning Co. plant in the City Terrace area.

By the time Engine 32 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department received the alarm at 2:24 p.m. and pulled out of its house, less than a half mile from the plant, the structure was completely involved.

Chief Orlo Pederson of Battalion 3 quickly ordered a 2nd and 3rd alarm and First Asst. Chief Roland W. Percey and Deputy Chief John Duncan also responded from County Fire Headquarters which is located nearby.

Other industrial buildings in the vicinity were threatened for a time as flames burned through the corrugated structure filled with leather hides. There were several minor explosions.

The County fire fighters brought a ladder pipe on Truck 27 into play to sweep the top of the burning building.

The blaze finally was confined to the tanning plant.

Investigators reported the fire probably started when sparks from a buffing machine ignited leather hides.

Damage was estimated at $500,000 and 33 employees escaped safely.

Responding from L.A. County F.D. were Engines 32, 1, 2, 3, 22, 27; Truck 27; Rescue 3; Deputy Chief Duncan; First Asst. Percey; Battalion 3 Chief Pederson.

The biggest loss of any of the series of fires occurred on the morning of December 27 in the Orange County community of Fullerton east of Los Angeles when a $2,000,000 fire destroyed a large section of the industrial areas.

It was the most devastating fire in the history of Orange County and it took the concentrated effort of most of the area’s firemen to control it.

Two large fruit packing and processing plants were burned to the ground by the gale-whipped winds as were a huge cold storage plant, a dress factory, and a water-softening plant.

Winds up to 50 m.p.h. turned the fullblock blaze into a giant flame thrower which licked toward a new residential district only a block away and menaced Fullerton’s nearby shopping district.

Service on adjacent Santa Fe railroad tracks was temporarily interrupted.

The fire was first spotted shortly after 4 a.m. at the Eadington Fruit Co., packers of Minute Maid orange juice concentrates. The plant is at the corner of Spadra Road and Santa Fe St., less than a block from Fullerton’s central shopping district.

Clinton Hill, a night watchman at the adjacent Golden Citrus plant, spotted the flames burning through the roof and turned in the alarm.

By the time Chief Lloyd Eckles and six Fullerton fire companies arrived, sections of the plant’s roof had collapsed.

From there the fire spread to the Golden Citrus plant, but fire fighters saved the firm’s juice plant.

At the same time, flames leaped across the railroad tracks to the American Fruit Growers, Inc., plant, where only a portion of the office was left standing.

Flames from the rear of that building leaped back across the tracks to the Cindy Lee of California dress manufacturing plant, which was also leveled.

Firemen managed to prevent the fire from burning adjacent plants of the Fullerton Mutual Orange Association, but the fire did jump and destroy a warehouse of the Anaheim Cold Storage plant and the Culligan Soft Water Service plant.

Firemen Charles Day of Fullerton F. D. and James Farrel of the Orange County Forestry Service were overcome by smoke. Asst. Chief Dave Smith of Santa Ana F.D. suffered shock when a falling timber cracked his helmet and Fireman C. E. Heard, also from Santa Ana, suffered face burns.

Chief Eckles’ request for assistance was answered by units from throughout Orange County including Santa Ana, Anaheim, Brea, La Habra, Buena Park, Huntington Beach, Red Hill, and the Orange County Forestry Service.

The following day a terrifying forest fire driven by winds up to 75 m.p.h. destroyed two homes and threatened hundreds of persons in the small communities of Devore and Verdemont in Cajon Pass just north of San Bernardino.

The fire started shortly before noon on December 28, during one of the worst wind storms in Southern California history.

All available units from the California Division of Forestry were mobilized as were U.S. Forest Service crews. The C.D.F. moved in 22 pumpers, some from as far away as San Diego County in a desperate attempt to keep the flames from the homes.

However, in the early stages, all the fire fighters could do was protect the buildings as the high winds often bowled men over.

Indian fire fighters were flown in from Arizona and New Mexico and engine companies from nearby San Bernardino and other fire districts stood by.

Officials said it was a miracle that only the two homes were destroyed by the wind-whipped flames.

Water froze in hose lines the first night as the temperature dropped to below 32 degrees.

Flames boil through roof of Los Angeles Tanning Co. as County firemen break out door preparing to place hose line inside.

L. A. County F. D. Photo

Los Angeles Tanning Co. burns. At left, ladder pipe on County F. D. Truck 27 is played on fire while other hose lines are placed around perimeter. County Rescue 3 in foreground.

L. A. County F. D. Photo

Telephone lines were burned in several places leaving much of the mountain and Mojave Desert area without communications. Many areas were darkened when a 100,000 volt high tension line was knocked out.

More than 750 men managed to control the fire by December 29 after the winds died down and gave them a chance to get at it.

The last of the big blazes broke out shortly after midnight on January 4 on Hollywood’s famous Sunset Strip about half way between Ciro’s and the Mocambo.

A professional ice skater, Richard Strauss, spotted the fire burning at the rear of the Normandie Village Apartments and ran through the maze of old English type structures warning occupants to flee.

He reportedly contacted the manager of the units who ran down to see what was burning. By the time she returned to the office, the flames had burned out telephone lines, causing a delay in notifying the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

County Fire Headquarters received the first alarm at 12:31 a.m. and immediately dispatched Engines 7, 8, 108, Truck 8, Rescue 8, and Battalion 1.

L.A. City’s Westlake alarm center also received a report of a fire in the area and in conforming to its policy on fires believed to be in county area, sent Engine 41 and Battalion 5, Chief Harry Gross, to see what the situation was.

County Engine 7 responded east on Sunset Blvd. The main portion of the flames was obscured by the buildings since the fire was in the garages at the rear of the apartments and down the slope of a hill.

Capt. Russ Cox and his crew carried a line down the narrow passageway at the west side of the Village and then they saw the garages, cars, and several apartments were fully involved.

Spectators watch Normandie Village burn on Sunset Strip. Firemen had rough time getting lines into fire.

Photo by Loren Patty, L. A. Mirror Staff Photographer

County fireman carries hose away from Engine 108 as deck gun prepares to go into action at Normandie Village fire on Sunset Strip. Note Old English type buildings burning. Fire started in garages at left of burning roof. Big apartment building at right was saved.

Photo by Loren Patty, L. A. Mirror Staff Photographer

After the Normandie Village fire was over, this is what remained of garage area where fire started at right center. Fireman (left center) plays hose on smouldering remains. Just behind hose stream is collapsed patio roof where two city firemen were injured. Eleven cars burned.

Photo by Loren Patty, L. A. Mirror Staff Photographer

Meanwhile, more than 200 persons were fleeing onto busy Sunset Blvd. as the flames ate into the old wooden buildings with high wooden roofs.

Capt. Howard Oakes of County Engine 8 said “it looked as if the whole Hollywood Hills were on fire” as his company rolled north from Santa Monica Blvd. toward the fire.

Chief B. D. Robinson of County Battalion 1 could see the flames as he started down the Baldwin Hills nine miles to the south toward the fire.

“I could see we had a bad one going,” the chief said. “I requested more information and immediately ordered two more engine companies dispatched.”

Meanwhile L.A.F.D. Engine 41 arrived and found the fire in the county. Permission to move in and help was granted at once and, after Chief Gross arrived, two additional city engines and one truck was ordered in to help the county. Asst. Chief Forest Moore arrived soon after and ordered another truck, a salvage company, and a light unit.

The county also sent additional units, but the fire fighters were hampered by the lack of access to the fire. The slope of the hills and the weird construction of the units prevented laying of lines with the rigs and most hose had to be muled in.

The flames licked perilously close to an adjacent, new $500,000 apartment unit and to a famous photographer’s studio.

County Truck 8 was driven down a narrow roadway and the 85-foot aerial raised with ladder pipe attached. This gave the firemen a chance to sweep the entire west side of the fire from a good elevation.

At the east side, County Engine 108 was moved to a parking lot and its deluge gun set up to play on that section. It was impossible to attack the fire from the front or Sunset Blvd. side except with hand lines.

About this time Capt. Cox of Engine 7 and Firemen Milton Farrell and Tom Faulkner saw the heavy stream of water from the aerial moving toward them. The ladder pipe operator apparently could not see the crew through the heavy smoke.

Capt. Cox immediately shut the line and started to move out of the way, but all three men were swept off their feet by the stream. Fortunately, none was hurt.

By now extra squads of California Highway Patrolmen and L.A. County Deputy Sheriffs were called to detour traffic and to handle the tremendous throng of sightseers who swarmed in from the Strip’s well – known night clubs. A few movie stars and other celebrities were in the crowd.

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California Fires

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Then two city firemen, Howard Scott and Robert O. Crume, were injured when the roof of a garage they were on collapsed.

Scott was falling into the boiling flames when a fellow fireman managed to grab him. Just as his grip was weakening, another fireman arrived and Scott was dragged out safely.

Both firemen were taken to Hollywood Receiving Hospital and treated for cuts and bruises. Scott later we removed to Georgia St. Hospital where it was reported that he had a concussion.

Spectators and homeless families watched in amazement as the firemen battled the raging flames.

“The way those firemen went in there without regard to their own safety was remarkable,” commented one resident.

Chief Robinson was lavish in his praise for the city firemen and the help they provided.

“The L.A. boys really did a wonderful job,” Chief Robinson said. “Their help was invaluable.”

Damage to Run $200,000

Mrs. Harriet Hewitt, manager of the village, said damage would run in excess of $200,000. She said that none of the residents or even any of their many pets were injured. Eleven automobiles in the garages were destroyed and firemen were hampered at times by exploding gas tanks.

Capt. Jack Connors of the L.A. Countv Fire Prevention Bureau and Sgt. Ed Hatcher of the Sheriff’s Arson Detail said the fire probably started in the upholstery of a car in the garage.

The site of the Normandie Village blaze was almost directly across the street from the last big Strip fire which gutted the Officer’s Club three years ago.

Responding on the alarm from L.A. County were Engines 7, 8, 108, 38, 58, 54, 22; Truck 8; Rescue 8; Battalion 1 Chief Robinson; Division 2, Asst. Chief Harvey Anderson; Asst. Chief Les Dutton, Fire Prevention Engineer; Deputy Chief John Duncan; and Chief Engineer Keith E. Klinger.

Responding from L.A.F.D. were Engines 41, 27, 51; Trucks 27, 35; Salvage 27; Utility 27; Battalion 5 Chief Gross; Division 2 Chief Moore.

Extensive overhauling operations were necessary.

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