Fire From Unknown Cause Envelopes Craft While Tied Up at Her W inter Quarters—Second Pleasure Craft to Be Burned to Water’s Edge

THE excursion steamer, “Julia Belle Swain,” one of the most famous of river craft in the Pittsburgh District, which plied the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, burned to the water’s edge on Wednesday, December 2, about 10:45 a.m., in one of the most spectacular daylight harbor fires that have taken place in the Pittsburgh district for years. The fire started from some unknown cause, while the vessel was moored at her winter quarters on the south bank of the Monongahela River, a short distance beyond the city limits at Becks Run. She was operated daily and Sunday in the excursion trade during the summer months and during the fall and early winter evenings as a dance boat.

So intense was the heat from the fire, as the flames swept through the large vessel from stem to stern, that railroad ties of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, New York Central Lines, were ignited, as well as telephone poles and wires nearby.

To prevent the destruction of the railroad tracks and telegraph poles, a yard locomotive was dispatched to the scene, and with railroad fire hose attached to the injector of the locomotive, the crew succeeded in extinguishing the burning ties and poles.

A telephone or “Still Alarm” was received through the Pittsburgh Central Fire Alarm Office, and by Engine Company No. 12, located a distance of two miles west from the burning vessel was dispatched. It responded with a 1,000-gallon triple combination gasoline pumper and a combination, hose, chemical and turrett wagon, but owing to the long distance between the nearest fire hydrant and the fire, over 1,600 feet, the firemen with all the hose carried on both apparatus, were unable to render any service in saving any part of the large vessel. The boat was beyond saving by the time the firemen arrived.

Pleasure Boat in Service on the Ohio River.Smouldering Ruins of the Julia Belle Swain.

After seeing that the railroad employes with the use of the fire stream from the yard locomotive, could take care of what fire was still burning on the railroad ties and telegraph poles, No. 12 Company returned to their Company Quarters.

The pilot of the vessel was doing some work when he discovered smoke coming from the kitchen on the deck below. He ran for a bucket of water, but by the time he got it and returned to the kitchen, he was unable to make any headway against the flames.

So rapid did the flames spread, that he was forced to jump into the river and swim to the shore. A few minutes later the vessel was rocked by an explosion when the flames reached the oil drums and other combustibles in the engine room. The blast hurled burning embers into the Lake Erie Railroad Yards.

The watchman, ordinarily stationed on the vessel, was absent on a shopping errand when the fire broke out.

The “Julia Belle Swain” was built in 1915 at Stillwater, Minn., at a cost of approximately $90,000. Her first service was at Pensacola, Florida and at Mobile, Alabama. In 1924, the vessel was brought to the Pittsburgh region, and since then, plied the Monongahela, Ohio and Allegheny Rivers in the excursion trade.

The “Julia Belle Swain” was the second river excursion steamer to be destroyed by fire in the Pittsburgh district during the present year. The steamer “Greater Pittsburgh,” formerly the “Horner Smith,” the largest and finest excursion steamer, between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, burned to the waters edge on March 11, 1931 at the foot of Page Street, on the Ohio River, with a loss of $90,000.

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