Flashlight + Decorations + Delayed Alarm=Big Fire

Flashlight + Decorations + Delayed Alarm=Big Fire

The Lynchburg Fire at Its Height. Three Buildings Were Destroyed Through Photographer’s Flashlight Igniting Flimsy Decorations of Exhibition Booths

Courtesy of Lynchburg News.

Photographer Taking Pictures of Exhibition Booths Sets Fire to the Flimsy Decorations—Three Buildings Burned—Week’s Fires

THE combination of a mass of flimsy paper decorations and the flashlight of a photographer caused what is said to have been the worst fire from the standpoint of monetary loss that Lynchburg, Va., has ever experienced. It destroyed four buildings and damaged another before it was brought under control by the fire department.

The fire originated in the Industrial Exposition and Pageant of Progress which was being held in the Booker Building, a tobacco warehouse which had been temporarily converted into the exposition. A photographer had been commissioned to make several views of the booths and had already taken three when, on igniting his flash for the fourth picture, some of the flimsy paper decorations around the booth caught fire. It was a matter of seconds when the entire booth was aflame and the fire was rapidly spreading to those adjoining.

There seems to have been considerable delay in calling the fire department, as when it arrived the building was burning briskly. A feature of the fire which emphasized an important lesson was the fact that the stores of the Hill Buggy and Wagon Company and Anderson Stone & Co., which backed up on the burning structure, suffered no damage with the exception of water in the basement of the latter structure. These buildings were separated from those on fire by well constructed fire walls which kept the blaze from communicating to them. On the other hand, three other stores which were gutted by the flames fell a prey to the fire because of umprotected doors or windows and defective rear walls facing the tobacco warehouse. In describing this fire Chief W. L. Sandidge, of the fire department of Lynchburg, writes:

“The alarm for this fire was sounded at 12:30 P. M. The structure involved was located on Commerce and 13th Streets with an entrance from Main Street. The building fronted on Commerce Street 200 feet, running up on 13th Street 150 feet and from 13th up Main Street 300 feet, it being two stories of brick with inside frame construction and window openings into the Woody-Evans Grocery Company and the Perrow-Evans Hardware Company. The openings from the building first involved into the other structures made it practically the same as one building. The tobacco warehouse was being used as an exhibit hall for the Industrial Exposition by the merchants and was decorated from top to bottom with paper decorations which made it very inflammable and should never have been allowed, as the building was regarded more or less as a fire trap and had only two exits, these being very small and insufficient to take care of large crowds. As far as the fire extinguishers were concerned the fire department furnished these to the exposition. We had them thoroughly tested and newly charged before we turned them over to them. As a matter of fact the people who tried to use the extinguishers were not familiar with them and even if they had been they would not have been able to check this fire after it had once gained headway, with the flimsy decorations in the building.

“The fire department was only requested to be on duty at this building from 7 P. M. to 11 P. M. When the fire occurred there were no firemen in the structure but I have been informed after the flashlight for the picture was taken and the building set on fire the alarm was not sounded for ten minutes, which gave the fire ample time to spread over the entire structure.

“The Hill Buggy Company and the Anderson Stone & Co. stores which were at the corner of Main and 13th Streets and which backed into the warehouse which was on fire, were equipped with fire walls and were not damaged by the fire. If the warehouses of Perrow-Evans and Woody-Evans had been equipped with fire walls such as that of the Hill Buggy Company, they would not have been damaged. I will go further by saying that if the warehouse in which the fire occurred had been equipped with a sprinkler system the fire would have been prevented. When this structure was built Lynchburg had no building code and therefore there was nothing to prevent the structure being built. We now have a building code which requires fire stops and sprinkler systems to be installed in new buildings.

“This fire contains many lessons that could be studied profitably by the majority of cities and should make municipalities which are lacking in good building codes sit up, take notice and advocate and enforce fire prevention.

“In ten minutes after the alarm of fire was sounded, we had twenty Streams of water flowing into this building, with five motor engines pumping two streams each and ten lines connected direct to the high pressure system from hydrants, using 6,300 feet of 2 1/2 and 3-inch fire hose, with fifty paid firemen on the scene to handle it.”

(Continued on page 386. For Fires of Week see page 384)

Three Buildings Burned in Lynchburg

(Continued from page 380)

Chief Sandidge received the following letter of thanks from one of the companies whose establishment was saved from destruction.

Wc want to uar thin method to express our appreciation and gratitude to Chief W. L. Sandidge and the members of the fire department for the splendid work done by them in handling the fire yesterday afternoon. We feel that our store was saved only through the very effective manner in which they fought the flames, which at one time looked as if they would destroy the entire block.


The loss was estimated at about $300,000.

Clean Moline Reservoir—The 500,000-gallon water reservoir at Moline, I11., was given its annual cleaning last month during which time the water consumers of the city had to depend upon the water pumps at the pumping station for their supply. An outer coat of paint is being applied to the reservoir. It is also planned to paint in large letters the name “Moline” on the outside of the tank and also state the reservoir’s capacity. The printing will give the city considerable publicity as the tank is conspicuous and the wording cannot but help attract the eye of visitors and tourists.

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