Disastrous Fire at Minamiku, Namba Shinchi, Osaka.

Disastrous Fire at Minamiku, Namba Shinchi, Osaka.

(Through the Department of State.)

American Consular Service, Kobe, Japan, February 28, 1912.


Your letter of January 17, 1912. relating to the fire at Osaka, which occurred on January 16, with a list of interrogatories, was duly received. Through the kindness of the mayor of Osaka, to whom application was made, I received the enclosed report in Japanese, which has been translated. There is also enclosed a map of Osaka, showing the area burned over. This area was in a part of the city where the small one-story houses predominated, there being but few two or more storied houses, and those were mostly used as moving picture places and licensed houses. This accounts for the small valuation of the property destroyed. Osaka is at present engaged in the construction of large waterworks, and it is believed that with their completion, when fires occur, the supply of water being ample, they may be more readily controlled. The construction of Japanese houses, however, is of so light a character, and are so close together, the streets in most cases, and alleyways being very narrow, that if a fire occurs and there is any wind they may not be able to control the fire without severe loss of buildings. In Osaka and Kobe there are watch towers scattered over the cities from 50 to 70 feet in height, where watchmen are stationed to give notice of fires occurring in different sections, and at these towers reels of hose arc usually kept for immediate use, that can be handled by from four to six men, and attached to the fire plugs. The delay in transmitting this letter has been caused by its translation into English.

I am, gentlemen, your obedient servant.

GEO. N. WEST, American Consul.

Enclosures: Map of Osaka. Report and answers to interrogatories.

The following information was furnished by the mayor of Osaka: The locality of the fire was in the southern district known as Namba Schinchi and twenty-one other streets. The space occupied was twelve hundred meters from west to east and three hundred meters from north to south. The buildings varied in height and were constructed principally of wood, there being an occasional brick house. Partition walls were only provided in two cinematograph buildings. The walls were mostly made of earth, with only an occasional one constructed of brick or wood. In some of the buildings there were hand sprinkler equipments, but not in private houses. The fire started near the roof of the licensed quarter called Yakwan, having been caused by a spark from a neighboring bath-house. It was about one o’clock when a policeman discovered the flames, which continued burning for ten hours, when they were stopped at the fourth division of the fire defense lines. The officer was on night duty in the south district of the fire brigade and at once struck an alarm bell. At the house where the fire broke out (here were hydrants and apparatus for extinguishing fire, but no special means were provided for saving life. When the fire department reached the ill-fated building the flames had broken through the roof and were spreading to neighboring houses. A strong wind was blowing at the time, which added fury to the flames. The streets were narrow and the water supply insufficient, which was a great handicap to the firemen. The apparatus used included 26 engines and 167 fire extinguishers of various makes. There were 130 main hydrants in the vicinity, these being 4 and 6-inch single and double, located from 300 to 400 feet apart. The normal water pressure at hydrants is 200 to 300 gallons per minute per hydrant, but as all the hydrants were in use the water pressure was weak. Fortytwo hose streams and 104 steamer streams were employed, 26,000 feet of hose being brought into action, upon which 1⅞ and 1 1/16-inch nozzles were attached. Most of the streets in the vicinity are only 20 feet wide. Nipponbashi streets carries a 12-inch main and Namba street a 20-inch main. All the hose used was cotton and not a single length hurst. No special fire tools were employed. Roth city water supply and river water were used, our system being standpipe. The property destroyed was valued at $3,457,632, but the value of the contents of the buildings, which numbered 4,779 houses, could not be ascertained.

At 1:30 a. m. all the city officials from the mayor down hastily proceeded to the scene of the conflagration, news of which had just been received, and caused all possible efforts to be exerted in behalf of those distressed. At 5:30 a. m. the mayor and other officials assembled at the Minami Ward Hall, where a method of procedure was determined, a provisional committee of the officials present organized and a chairman appointed. Finally the committee was augmented by the appointment of other officials who had not yet arrived upon the scene of action. The salient features of the organization at its conception were, in brief, as follows: Commissioners for personal affairs, in charge of disbursements for subsistence, for receiving money and articles and other contributions, for warehouses and for distributing food, for hiring coolies and cart coolies, for investigating the number of houses destroyed, and destitute persons, for medical treatment. On the 17th a regulation was issued providing for a temporary relief bureau, and a chief and assistant chief were appointed, the vicemayor being elected chief and the chancellor of the city hall assistant chief. Since the 16th places for medical treatment had been established wherecvcr it was deemed necessary, but some of these stations were either withdrawn or amalgamated with others. Kitchens have been set up at Kitamido and at Manpukuji temple, where food is prepared under the supervision of the officials in charge and examined by the medical authorities. This food was distributed to the various stations where relief was afforded. Medical treatment was provided for at the Manpukuji and Minamimido temples. The supply of food was not sufficient, and it became necessary to ask the help of thirty cooks of the Eighth Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Division and five cooks of the Osaka Branch of the Red Cross Society. Over 250 bushels of food was prepared, including cold lunches for several thousand people. The cold lunches were contributed by Baron Sumitomp, the Tenri Association and others. These were distributed to the destitute sufferers by 155 coolies and twenty push carts, with the help of a corps of transport troops. Medical relief stations were established at Shimotera, Machi and Manpukuji, for which medicines were requisitioned from the Momoyama hospital, and physicians from the Osaka Hygienic Laboratory were also engaged. Gratuitous treatment was afforded by physicians sent out by the Osaka branch of the Red Cross Society, by four corps of physicians sent out by the Military hospital of the Fourth Division, and by the physicians of the Osaka Higher Medical School. Patients were treated every day by the members of the Osaka Physicians’ Association. In order to do the greatest amount of good to the largest number, ordinary relief was accorded those who were able to take care of themselves and special relief to those who appeared, after careful investigation, to require immediate assistance.

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