On Saturday last there was a destructive conflagration at Cape May, the popular summer resort regarding which we hear so much during the summer season. The fire was discovered about 7 o’clock in the morning in the Ocean House, and burned till 6 o’clock in the evening, destroying six of the principal hotels, and laying waste some forty acres of business property. The loss is estimated at about $400,000. Engines were sent to the scene Irom Camden and Philadelphia, but before their arrival, the fire had obtained such headway that there was nothing to do but let it burn itself out.
The secret of this great destruction of property lies in the fact that Cape May had no adequate means for extinguishing fires. A correspondent describing the fire says: “ When the fire first started in the Ocean House, the citizens and the few people on the island, managed nearly to control it. There were no Fire Engines on the island except an antiquated Hand Engine and a Chemical Engine, which were of no use whatever.” Had there been a good Steamer available at this time, there is little doubt but the fire would have been readily extinguished, and $400,000 of property saved. A fire tax of one per cent on the value of ihe property actually destroyed—or of onetenth of one per cent on the value of the property jeopardized by this fire—would have been sufficient to have supplied Cape May with an efficient fire equipment, and provided experienced Firemen to manage it who would, without doubt, have snuffed out the fire in its incipiency. But a lack of public spirit left the town unprotected and at the mercy of the “ fire fiend.” Of course, he took advantage of a h>gh wind, when every condition was favorable to extended ravages, and swooped in upon the doomed city at a tfhie when there were comparatively few persons present to offer resistance. The “ fire fiend ” is always looking for just such opportunities.
Cape May has thus paid dearly for her neglect of the ordinary precautions. Edensburg, Penn., paid a similar price for her experience a few weeks ago, and Jonesville or Smithsburg will pay a like penalty next week or the week af er. With all these places that tempt Providence by neglecting the precau ions which every good citizens is morally bound to exercise, their punishment is but a question of time. As the devil is popularly supposed to be walking up and down the earth looking for sinners whom he may devour, so is the “ fire fiend,” a duly accredited emissary of the devil, stalking about at all times, looking for those places where business men most expose their property, that he may destroy, with his fiery breath, the accumulations of a lifetime. If the devil punishes us for our sins, most certainly his red-handed agent scourges us for our recklessness and unpardonable neglect.
But if average citizens are thus reckless in the matter of fire protection, what shall be said of those insurance companies who make a study of fire risks, that deliberately place in peril the capital of their stockholders by insuring property where there is no means provided for saving it in case of fire ? At Cape May, the property destroyed was insured to very nearly its value; the owners lose but little, while the insurance companies lose all they risked. So long as the companies will do business in this way, there is little wonder that property-owners are indifferent as to the equipment of their Fire Departments. When our laws step in and prohibit companies paying more than two-thirds the value of property destroyed, there will be more of an incentive to property-holders to provide thorough and effective means for putting out fires. Make them share the risk, and they will provide for it. After Edenburg’s recent conflagration, the citizens at once took measures to organize a Fire Department. The present is a good time for missionaries in the Fire Department supply line to visit Cape May—in fact, the “ season ” is at its height for them.