Incendiarism Suspected in Canadian Church Fires
Great Religious Edifice Destroyed in Quebec—Cupola of Basilica of Immaculate Conception Narrowly Escapes Crushing Building—Firemen Fall from Roof—Week’s Burnings
Historical Basilica at Quebec Destroyed
The Basilica, the most historical of all of Quebec’s churches, was completely destroyed by a fire which broke out shortly before midnight on December 21. At the first sign the fire was a dense smoke and this proved the destruction of the church, as before the firemen could locate the blaze the entire structure was enveloped. The first alarm was received from a signal box at 12:04 A.M. and the department under command of Chief Lawrence Donnelly, responded at once. A general alarm was immediately sent in by the chief, who saw that the church was doomed, and this summoned 140 men, with two steamers and six Seagrave motor apparatus. Nine hydrants were available, spaced from 250 to 500 feet apart, with a pressure of 110 pounds. Seventeen hydrant streams and two engine streams were thrown, with nozzles of 1 1/8 inches, the water mains being 14 inches. In all 7,900 feet of hose were laid, one deluge set also being brought into requisition. Three smoke helmets were utilized by the firemen in attempts to get at the fire.
When the department arrived, as before referred to, the smoke was so dense that it was impossible to locate the exact seat of the blaze and before this could be done the entire structure was enveloped in the flames and it was apparent to Chief Donnelly that it could not be saved. He then devoted his attention to preventing the destruction of the Bishop’s palace and the presbytery which adjoined the church, and in this he was successful. An effort was made by two of the priests and a police sergeant to rescue the Blessed Sacrament, the three dashing into the flame-filled structure and bringing out the Host. However, all but two of the priceless paintings and all of the other treasures in the church were destroyed. In their efforts to check the flames in their march upon the great tower the firemen stationed themselves along the “snow rail” of the church roof. The men were operating from a ladder and were getting in good work, when all at once, and with a roar, the rail gave way, and the men were precipitated to the ground in a regular avalanche of snow, twisted iron, and burning embers. Fireman Rochon crashed into the fence rail and was obviously stunned. Two or three companions seized him immediately and lifted him over the rail to the street where he was attended to. As a tribute to his tenacity it should be stated that Rochon was back on the job again in a very few minutes. All this time the flames were working towards the base of the great tower and as the heat developed the asbestos covering stripped off and fell in swirling strings on the street.
With a high gale blowing it was only a question of time before the steeple would crumble and, it was feared, would fall on the Renfrew Block, which was being protected at that time by the firemen. However, the tower when it fell struck about a foot and a half from the building line and the only damage it did was to shatter the plate-glass window in a book store. This business block was only separated from the flames by a 26-foot street, and in spite of this fact it was practically unscathed, a great feat for the fire department under Chief Donnelly. The loss on the building, valued at $500,000, and on the contents, valued at $700,000. $1,000,000 in all, was total.