Five New York Fires in Block in Four Hours
Five fires within three square blocks between one o’clock and five o’clock in the morning in the negro section of Harlem, New York City, two weeks ago caused the loss of four lives, injuries to a score of colored persons and struck terror among thousands more who reside in closely quartered tenements in that neighborhood.
The fires consisted of one third alarm, two second alarms and two verbal alarms. Four of the five were made the subject of investigation by Fire Marshal Thomas P. Brophy and his staff. Two of the fires were fatal. It was one of the busiest and most exciting four hours the “Black Belt” of New York has had in many years. It caused thousands of negroes to leave their beds and stand guard in their homes or principally in the hallways of the tenements in which they live. It happened at a time when Barron Wilkins, a power among the negroes and a political leader and sportsman among his own people, lay dead in his home within a block of the fire area. His death at the hands of a negro gun toter two days before had the colored quarter on edge and the epidemic of fires aggravated the apprehension.
The first fire was in the Metropolis Storage Warehouse at No. 50 West 133rd Street. It originated on the third floor in some furniture. Its origin could not be ascertained, but it was not regarded as suspicious. That was a second alarm blaze and it extended to the fourth floor and through the roof. Three extra sections of the Salvage Corps were called to cover up.
Chief Kenlon and most of the apparatus had returned to quarters when the second fire occurred at No. 14 West 134th Street. The fire originated in the main hall and extended up the stairway to the roof of the five story tenement, before it was discovered. On the top floor, a negro and his two children were suffocated. Prompt work on the part of Lieut. Frank Dolan and his men of H & L Co. 17 with an aerial ladder saved at least thirty other persons. The blaze required a second alarm assignment.
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Courtesy Sacramento Bee
Five New York Fires in Block in Four Hours
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Eight minutes after the first alarm for the aforementioned fatal fire, another fire was discovered around the corner at No. 2213 Fifth Avenue. Capt. Butler, of Fire Patrol No. 6, while passing, discovered it. The fire was confined to a large number of awnings under the stairway in the main hall, where they had been stored overnight prior to being placed on the windows of the building next day. The fire was quickly extinguished.
Two minutes later another fire was discovered in a mattress at No. 20 West 124th Street four doors away from where firemen were still at work in No. 12. The fire in No. 20 was discovered by Patrolman Richardson, a negro policeman. He was told that the mattress was a discarded one which had been lying in the gutter all night. The alleged incendiary dragged in from the street into the hallway of No. 20 and set fire to it.
This fire was confined to the mattress and was extinguished by a fire company at work in No. 12. By this time all Harlem was aroused. Negroes in all manner of dress and undress poured out of their homes and filled the streets. Women called to one another from opposite windows.
Children became hysterical and wept aloud. Cries that “The Klu Klux Klan is burning us all up” didn’t help the situation a bit. Pandemonium broke loose and the police had their work cut out for them. Reserves from several precincts were summoned.
By the time the clanging apparatus was speeding back to quarters, the fifth fire was discovered in the hallway of No. 109 West 134th Street. This was at 5:01 o’clock. The fire shot through the old-law tenement like a skyrocket. It was leaping out of the roof scuttle when Box 1547 was pulled, followed in six minutes by a second alarm, followed twentyfive minutes later by a third alarm. The flames damaged the adjoining tenements on both sides. Exceptional ladder work was done by Truck 22 and Truck 30. One woman, a negress, was caught by fire on the top floor. She was rescued but died in a taxicab en route to Harlem Hospital.
Chief Kenlon, assisted by Deputy Chief Thomas F. Dougherty had the fire under control in another half hour. The Harlem section of Manhattan Island was somewhat shy on apparatus, necessitating the locating of two engine companies and five truck companies to “cover-up” the stripped sections.
The fire marshal and his men mingled in the crowds and followed up a few clues, but without success. In all the tenements afire, the front doors were not locked. Access was easy for any lounger or denizen in the neighborhood. Marshal Brophy believes the fires were the work of either a hooch crazed or a drug crazed negro.