FIRST LARGE MAGNESIUM FIRE DEMOLISHES A DEFENSE PLANT
Loss to Run to Several Millions; Water Sends Metal into Violent Explosions
SEVERAL millions of dollars of vital war materials and an incendiary bomb case plant nearly a block square went up in rumbling explosions and a blinding blaze of magnesium Wednesday night, December 16 and Thursday morning, December 17, in the worst single fire Dallas, Texas, has ever experienced.
Early Thursday, more than six hours after the blaze began, the Austin Bridge Company’s incendiary bomb case plant still was blazing and exploding in a glare of light seen more than eighty miles from the city.
Carloads of highly inflammable magnesium were in the storerooms adjoining the foundry where the blaze originated, and thousands of bomb cases were in the adjoining machine shop, which caught fire around 10:30 p. m. despite efforts of the firemen to keep the blaze away.
The blaze originated in the foundry where the magnesium is melted and molded into rough shapes for the shell cases. It began around 8 p. m., when most of the workmen were out to dinner. It is believed the fire started in a trough in the foundry into which chemicals were being poured.
Within a few minutes the entire foundry unit of the plant, a building more than 100 yards wide, was ablaze and soon afterward the uncontrollable flames had spread into storage rooms approximately the same size.
The blaze gradually grew in intensity as explosions sent chunks of the blazing metal flying into the air, leaving streamers of white smoke behind them.
Water Caused Explosions
Water being sprayed on the adjoining machine shop building would hit a pile of the metal, causing it to burst into violent explosion.
The blaze was unquenchable, and firemen did little but try to prevent its spreading.
Firemen were operating under the direction of Army ordnance officers stationed here, who instructed them how to cause as little damage as possible to the highly explosive metal.
As the fire first got underway it appeared from a distance as an angry orange glow, much like an oil fire, punctuated intermittently by flashes of lighter flames.
Later as the lightweight inflammable magnesium metal burst into its full fury the fire was like a mammoth arc lamp, brilliantly white and capped by its white smoke.
Fire Chief L. M. Funk said city fire trucks had none of the special apparatus needed to fight magnesium fires and could do nothing but pour on huge quantities of water.
The water, he explained, only makes the magnesium burn more fiercely, but it would thus burn itself out more quickly.
Every available piece of equipment in the city that could be spared was being dispatched to the blaze.
Heat from the dazzling white flames could be felt blocks from the blaze and kept firemen and other workmen at a distance or behind shields.