COSTLY DOCK AND SHIP FIRE FOUGHT BY ARMY OF FIRE-FIGHTERS
Long Beach Forces Aided by Neighboring Cities, Navy and Coast Guard
A Staff Report
FIRE which started about 11:00 P. M., December 5th, beneath the boilers on an outfitting dock of the Consolidated Steel Corporation, Long Beach, California, caused damage estimated at from $750,000 to $2,000,000.
Heaviest losses were sustained by berths No. 52, 53 and 54 and by the Navy transport Extavia in the inner harbor. It is believed that the fire on the dock, starting around or beneath two boilers used to provide steam to ships alongside the wharf, ignited boiler fuel which caused fire to spread over a considerable area of the dock structure. Alongside the dock was the $3,000,000 troop-carrying transport Extavia which was under repair at the time; fire damaged the ship’s plates possibly to the extent of several hundred thousand dollars.
The hospital ship U.S.S. Mercy, which was moored alongside the Extavia, was not damaged and was used as fireboat by the fire-fighters. Another ship, the Navy tanker U.S.S. Marias, moored astern of the Extavia, was moved out of the slip with difficulty. The ship was damaged to an extent not yet estimated.
Two other craft, the hospital ship U.S.S. Emily Weder and the tanker U.S.S. Colonia, were safely removed, the former from the same slip as the Extavia, the latter from adjoining Berth 54, as a wall of flames estimated at fifty-feet high licked at the vessel from the burning dock.
It is reported that about 1,400 feet of the 2,000-foot pier was badly damaged as to require replacement. The Maritime Commission and Consolidated Steel have a lease on the property for about six months more, after which it is scheduled to be turned back to the city of Long Beach.
Outside Aid Called
The first alarm for the fire was received by the fire department at 10:54 P. M., and a third (general) alarm was sounded at 11:28 P. M. According to Fire Chief A. C. DuRee, of Long Beach, the entire department was on duty soon after the general alarm, the off-shift of firemen voluntarily reporting to stations for service. Chief DuRee reports the department was handicapped because its single fireboat was undergoing repairs at the time of the fire. The Los Angeles boat, with other aid summoned as soon as the seriousness of the blaze became apparent, did good work. Coast Guard, Navy and improvised fireboats also went to work.
Fire departments of Wilmington, the Navy and San Pedro aided the eight companies from Long Beach. All told, there were twelve engine, truck and miscellaneous companies, aided by the boats, that fought the fire. Chief DuRee and Assistant Chief Claude Kreider supervised operations.
During the battle, a small fireboat from the Navy Operating Base was abandoned by its crew and was at first reported sunk; however the crew later reboarded the boat early in the morning and resumed operations. A small Coast Guard fireboat was another casualty, when it was crushed or swamped between two large ships while they were being pulled out of the slip. All members of the crew were saved.
Officers of the Extavia told police that the ship had aboard, at the time of the fire, 4,000 barrels of fuel oil in the tanks, and on deck were twenty-five barrels of gasoline and a like amount of kerosene.
When it appeared that the ship was doomed, the crew was set to work to jettison the oil drums.
A Complicated Fire Fighting Job
The size of the pier—2,000-feet in length—the combustible material present (much of it being coated with creosote), together with the high tides, seriously complicated the fire-fighting task. It was reported that space between the wharf and water surface, normally twelve feet, was greatly reduced by the high tides and swells during the two days the fire was fought. In addition, reinforced concrete dock pavement delayed the firemen’s effort to break through the deck structure to get at the substructure fire.
At the height of the fire, over 1,500 fire-fighters struggled to prevent the spread of the blaze. Numerous heavy streams were used to wet down the deck structure, and the Navy guns and other material stored on it. Turret and hand lines were used from every advantage point to reach the sub-structure fire. The heavy, acrid creosote-charged smoke, however, seriously handicapped the fire-fighters.
In order to bring to bear more streams on the outer pier, two makeshift fireboats were improvised out of fishing craft. Pumps, similar to the OCD 500 G. P. M. emergency type, were placed on the decks of these craft, and suctions dropped over the side.
Forty-eight hours after the start of the fire, between 200 and 300 firemen were still on duty, while fire continued to eat its way beneath Berths 51, 52, 53 and 54 in Channel 3, threatening several buildings, including a cannery and a marine terminal. Holes in the pier deck were being cut and distributors and cellar pipes used in the attempt to reach and extinguish the hidden fire. Although the efforts of the small army of fire-fighters were successful in bringing the fire under control and blocking off both ends of the pier, harbor officials and firemen reported that the fire would have to burn itself out completely.
The first casualty among the fire-fighters in the two-day struggle occurred when Battalion Chief Frank Sandeman, of the Long Beach Fire Department, fell through a section of the fire-weakened dock into the water. He was quickly rescued and treated at Community Hospital for submersion.