Hotel and Tenement Fires Take Eighteen Lives

Hotel and Tenement Fires Take Eighteen Lives

Fire in Houston, Tex., Hotel Snuffs Out Five Lives—Blaze in New York Tenement Results in Thirteen Killed—Fires of the Week

WITH a loss of life totalling five persons, many others, including members of the fire department, burned and otherwise injured, the destruction by fire of the Capitol Hotel, at Houston, Tex., marked another of the fatal fires which have occurred in the latter part of last year and the first of this. The blaze started in the night clerk’s room on the third floor, at 6:15 A. M.,when the majority of the guests were asleep, and was discovered by him while he was on the first floor. He attempted to ascend the stairway but was met by a solid wall of flame. He then shouted up the stairs in an attempt to arouse the guests. The alarm was not turned in until ten minutes after this for some reason and in consequence the fire was raging on all floors and the guests who had been unable to reach the fire escapes were rushing about the interior in panic or hanging out of the windows begging to be rescued. The fire department under command of Fire Commissioner Allie Anderson and Assistant and Acting Chief George Richarson, in the absence of Chief Ollre, upheld the best traditions as fire-fighting body and many rescues of men, women and children who seemed doomed by the flames were accomplished. The interior of the hotel was of wood and it burned like tinder. Most of those who lost their lives were on the second and third floors.

Exterior of Capitol Hotel, Houston, Tex., After Fatal Fire in Which Five Lives Were Lost

Courtesy Houston Post

Both shifts of firemen, more than 200 in all, worked from the time of the first alarm until after noon. The crews divided at noon so that part of the men returned to stations in the residence section. Others worked all night. The gas mains into the building were shut off by firemen so that when representatives of the Houston Gas and Electric Company arrived, their duties were light. Commissioner Allie Anderson arrived at the scene of the fire at 6:55 A. M., soon after the first alarm was turned in. A short time later he was joined by Will Smith, fire marshal, and other officials.

The firemen used water at the rate of 11,050 gallons per minute during the first 45 minutes of the fire. A curtain of water was flung between the Capitol hotel building and the Main street section of the Munn store. Water poured over the north walls of the hotel at the rate of 2,700 gallons per minute.

A little incident of human interest occurred when Commissioner Anderson learnedl that Captain H. Montgomery, of Station No. 14, had just become the father of a bouncing boy. The commissioner promptly excused the captain from duty. “I will go right through if you need me,” Captain Montgomery told his superior. “You will go right home where you belong we’ll do without you,” Commissioner Anderson said. Captain Montgomery now has nine children.

The loss was estimated about $400,000.

New York Tenement Fire Costs Thirteen Lives

A tenement fire which occurred on the morning of February 19, and which was characterized by Fire Chief Kenlon, of New York City, as the quickest burning blaze in his experience, cost the lives of thirteen persons within the short space of five minutes. It was at first thought that the fire was of incendiary origin and an apparently demented man, caught running from the building, was held for investigation, but it was afterwards decided that he had nothing to do with the fire.

The building was situated at 397 Madison Street, between Grand and Jackson Streets, on the lower east side of Manhattan Borough. A patrolman standing at Madison and Jackson Streets saw smoke coming from the hallway and turning in an alarm, ran to the building. It was he who captured the man he found running out of the building as he dashed in. The policeman then ran through the building awakening the tenants. The building was occupied by stores on the ground floor and by eight families on the four floors above. The stairway was filled with flames and smoke as the policeman ran through the hallway, and the flames shot up the stairs with astounding rapidity. At the third floor the flames mushroomed and ran up the stairs to the fifth floor doing their greatest damage on that floor and on the one immediately below. All of the dead were from the fourth and fifth floors with the exception of one man who jumped from a fourth story window and was found dead from a fractured skull in the rear courtyard.

Three separate investigations by the fire marshal, district attorney and the tenement house department and police were started at once. It was found that the flames originated in the cellar, it is thought in a pile of rubbish, but there is no positive evidence as to the cause. Two charred baby carriages found in the hallway on the first floor lent color to the rumor that the fire was one of the numerous incendiary fires started in this manner, but apparently this theory was not correct. The flames it seemed had swept up the rear stairway to the third floor, mushrooming to this point through the hallways and to the floors above. The reason that the flames penetrated the apartments so quickly, according to Fire Marshal Brophy, was due to the fact that the panicstrieken tenants opened their doors and then ran to the windows and raised them creating a draft.

Gutted Interior of Capitol Hotel, Houston, Tex., with Firemen Searching Ruins for Bodies

Courtesy Houston Chronicle

On the very day on which this fire occurred an action was brought before Justice Bijur in the Supreme Court of New York, which was intended to restrain the fire commissioner from ordering automatic sprinklers installed in just such tenements as that in which the fire occurred. In order to settle the right of the fire department to compel owners of some 3,754 socalled old law tenements to protect them from fire, the department through its fire prevention bureau caused orders to be served last December on six landlords requiring them to equip their tenements with automatic sprinklers in cellars, halls, stairways, shafts and the fireproofing of all doors and window sashes. The case just mentioned was the result.

An adjournment was obtained at the request of the corporation counsel, due to the fact that the papers in suit were not served on the city’s law department until the preceding Saturday and the intervening time was insufficient for the preparation of the case. In connection with the suit Fire Chief Kenlon said that an automatic sprinkler and alarm system are the only remedy which will prevent the recurrence of fire like that which has just been described and others of a similarly disastrous nature. Records in the tenement house department show that in New York last year there were 3,784 fires in old low tenements. Of the 81 deaths by fire in tenement houses, 68 of them were in old law tenements.

Exterior of New York City Tenement House in Which 13 Lives Were Lost in Five Minutes, One of the Quickest Burning Fires in the Records of the Department

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