Canadian Hotel Fire Kills II
Canada’s worst hotel fire since the burning of the Queen Hotel in Halifax, March 5, 1939, which took twenty-eight lives, followed the Winecoff Hotel fire by only twenty-four hours when the 36-year-old Barry Hotel was gutted in Saskatoon, Sask. In this predawn blaze, which followed a week-end of costly blazes in the Dominion, eleven persons lost their lives and eighteen were injured.
Much as in the case of the Winecoff tragedy, although firemen from a fire station only two blocks away were on the scene a minute after the first alarm was received at 2:41 A.M., the flames had already raced along corridors, trapping many of the approximately 120 persons registered at the time. As additional fire forces were summoned on second and third alarms first-due firemen fought to save what lives they could, laddering the three-story structure and attacking the fire, which rapidly involved the hotel lobby and interior.
The Barry Hotel, which had been bought the week before by Harry Ditlove and Mickey Phillet of Edmonton, and Leon Asben of New York for a reported $120,000, was occupied by a restaurant, jeweler, and other mercantile establishments on the ground floor. It was of brick joist construction and in its center it had a large skylight, through which many of the victims jumped from the hotel’s upper interior windows. Adjoining the hotel was a smaller structure occupied by a laundry, to which other guests leaped.
Gasoline Cause of Fire
According to Fred Fries, a waiter in the restaurant, he was called to the kitchen by the cook where he found the gasoline range blazing and a can of gasoline on the floor “shooting flames eight feet high.” Fries grabbed the can and tried to run to the street with it but bumped into a frightened customer, and the blazing can rolled into the hotel lobby. Another man tried to kick the container through the door but draft from a heavy electric fan was believed to have sent the flames spiraling upward. Within minutes the building was an inferno. The fire spread throughout the lobby and up the stairs to block the hotel corridors and trapping many guests on the upper floors.
George Hunter, night porter of the hotel, said the fire alarm system in the hotel did not work and he was forced to run upstairs and warn the guests in the upper halls. First, he said, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and emptied its contents on the flames, after having seen the waiter from the restaurant trying to get the can of gasoline out on the street. From his and the accounts of others, it would appear that this futile effort to fight the fire lost valuable moments.
According to Hunter, there was no sign of panic by the guests at the start, but later they leaned out the windows calling for help. Some guests, as the fire roared through the building, jumped, panic stricken, to the pavement, or through the interior skylight. Others improvised ropes from bed covering and dangled out windows awaiting the firemen. One man, trapped while taking a bath, opened his bathroom window and hung by his hands until rescued by firemen. Still others, retaining their calm, were able to descend by the rear fire escapes. One guest, not at once identified, was found by firemen making a hurried check of the rooms, sitting calmly waiting to be rescued. He told firemen he had been reading about the Winecoff Hotel fire of early Saturday and noted that many of the deaths might have been avoided if persons had stayed in their rooms.
Firemen Make Rescues
Braving intense heat, Fire Captain Clark and Fireman Bill Thompson of the department set a ladder up in the blazing rotunda, through the skylight of which a man had plunged shortly before, escaping with minor injuries, to save a group of fire victims marooned on the skylight. Other firemen found guests wandering around the halls in a dazed condition and led them out.
With so many tenants in imminent danger, firemen devoted most of their initial efforts to rescue. As the flames subsided they found most of the eleven bodies in the rooms, although two or three lay in the blackened corridors. A later check of the damage gave evidence of the wisdom of shutting up rooms in a fire. It was found that rooms not occupied by guests were in better condition in general than those which had been occupied, due to the fact that doors and windows had been closed.
The wooden doors of the hotel were equipped with Yale locks, it is said, and this fact almost cost the proprietor. Mr. Ditlove his life. Awakened in his suite by cries of “fire” he hurriedly dressed and led his wife into the smoke-filled corridor intending to reach the rear fire escape. Half-way down the corridor he collapsed and was partially overcome. However, he was able to crawl to his wife and they reached their room, only to find the door had locked behind them when they left. Feeling in his jacket pocket. Ditlove came upon the small ring on which he had placed his hotel key and he was able to re-open the door. His wife and he were shortly rescued by firemen.
G. H. Armitage, a telegraph operator, paralyzed from the hips down, was saved by firemen who carried him to safety, after entering by means of a ladder.
Acting Fire Chief William Wallace said that every man in the fire department was called out. The blaze was expected to accentuate the civic preelection debate over the merits of introducing a three-platoon system in the fire department in preference to the existing two-platoon system. Last year the measure was defeated by a small majority. If approved, it would mean the employment of about twenty more firemen on the Saskatoon force. The department’s present strength is approximately 60.