Five Alarm Fire Checks Liquor Raid
Mystery still surrounds the cause of the fire and the identity of the owners of a huge warehouse at 521 West 27th Street, New York City, which required a fifth alarm assignment early in the morning of June 4, in which three workmen of the warehouse were found burned to death. The building was formerly occupied by one of New York City’s oldest paint and varnish concerns.
The fire started with extraordinary speed and could be seen shooting through the roof for miles about the lower part of the city. It was discovered about 1:45 a. m. Additional alarms were sounded in quick succession. The heat was terrific and it blistered the paint on the water tower in the street. It also cracked windows in the old-law tenement houses of the old Chelsea district across the street.
Assistant Chief Thomas F. Dougherty was in command. The fight was entirely an exterior one and it was not until daybreak that firemen were permitted to risk the danger of entering the building.
United States Prohibition Enforcement Agents appeared on the scene and declared the building was one they had under surveillance for several days and were about to raid the premises when the fire occurred, thereby defeating them, they said, in that much of the alleged alcoholic contents of the premises had been destroyed. The government agents declared that enormous stills were contained within the building, that it was a bootleggers paradise, that commercial trucks containing fictitious automobile license plates were stored in the driveway next door, that hundreds of five-gallon cans of alcohol were found on the loading platform and that the premises was one of the largest plants for the illicit manufacture of spirituous liquors that ever came to light in New York.
It was alleged by the government agents that firemen either intentionally or accidentally backed at the five gallons cans and thereby permitted the alcohol to drain off with the water from the numerous hose lines and deck pipes with which the fire was quenched after six hours of intensive fighting by the forces of the fire department.
As yet the owners of the establishment have not been disclosed. Several investigations were conducted in which members of the fire department were questioned. The firemen, and also their superiors, denied deliberately destroying any property that might have been useful to the government as evidence of the existence of a liquor still. Dummy owners and directors of the corporation could shed no light on the real owners.
The usual and customary charge was aired in the newspapers that “high city officials” were involved, but nothing came of those allegations. It was not until several days after the fire that the identity of the three workmen was disclosed by relatives at the Bellevue Morgue. In each instance the men had not been living at home and no member of the family could shed any light on their employers.
WM. JEROME DALY