Fire In Piers and Storage Tops Jersey City Losses
Estimated Damage Placed at $10,000,000; Largest Fire in History of Jersey City
A FIRE, which apparently started in a stockyard at Jersey City, N. J., on May 31, burned for twenty-four hours and by the time the weary fire fighters had brought it under control, it had destroyed a built-up waterfront area covering eight blocks.
Docks, pier sheds, grain elevators and warehouses were involved in the conflagration.
As no national defense materials were involved in the blaze, the cause of the fire is held to be purely accidental.
The fire swept an area on the waterfront, totally destroying a twostory cattle pen and hay loft of the Jersey City Stock Yards Company, an eight-story grain elevator and engine house, a large milk platform, at least nine barges, sixteen freight cars and two automobiles. Extensive damage was done to the 400-by-200foot warehouse of the Mid-Hudson Warehouse Company.
This warehouse, a fortress-like, sixstory concrete and steel building filled with commodities, was the last stronghold of the stubborn blaze to surrender to the determined fire-fighting efforts.
An exact inventory of what was in the vast warehouse and how much was destroyed or irreparably damaged is not available. Various officials enumerated crude rubber, oil, bales of paper, tool steel, alcohol, Scotch whisky, chemicals and many other commodities among the items stored in it.
New York Sends Fireboats
For about twelve hours, two New York City fireboats—the “Firefighter” and the “John J. Harvey”—had struggled to break through into a little inlet of the Hudson River to a point from which they could direct streams of water into the blazing upper floors of the warehouse, but their path was blocked by the flaming bulk of three barges.
Finally, at 9 a. m., June 1, the “Firefighter,” under command of Battalion Chief John McConnell of New York, got past the wrecked barges, and in a few minutes had a big caliber stream of water directed against the wall of the building.
Even the great force of this big stream was making no headway, in razing the structure, so the “Firefighter” held off until mid-afternoon, allowing time for the walls to be weakened by the fire within. At 3:30 p. m., the fireboat aimed another stream at the building. In five minutes the walls between the fifth and sixth floor were toppled, and soon after the fire was reduced to the smouldering stage.
The warehouse building was constructed about twenty-five years ago. It was divided across its width by a fireproof wall, which effectively sealed off the part of the building from the fire. Damage in this portion of the building, therefore, was relatively small.
Part of the ruined grain elevator was leased by the Erie Railroad, its owner, to seed merchants who reported they lost 50,000 bushels of grain and fodder in the fire. The part of the grain elevator operated by the railroad had a million-bushel capacity, but it was reported that it was not loaded to capacity at the time of the fire.
All investigators seemed agreed that the fire broke out in the cattle pens while a crew of employes, unusually small because it was the evening of a Memorial Day weeeknd, was out to supper. The high wind fanned the flames and the fire caught on quickly in several places, soon spreading to the grain elevator.
Several Explosions Reported
Witnesses reported that there were several explosions after the grain elevator caught fire. The explosion reports were borne out by the fact that a light piece of corrugated iron from the grain elevator was found nearly two miles away from the scene of the fire.
Fire officials agreed that loss from the fire, which is estimated at $25,000,000, exceeded that of any in Jersey City’s history. It was worse than that of November, 1924, when an explosion in a saltpetre factory spread, destroying the American Sugar Refining Company plant and near-by tenements.
The problem of the firefighters was complicated by the outbreak of another three-alarm fire in the city about a mile and a half away from the waterfront blaze. Part of the Jersey City fire equipment, sorely needed at the waterfront, was diverted to the scene of the second blaze. The second fire, of undetermined origin, damaged six buildings, caused injuries to two persons and made five families homeless.