PHILADELPHIA LUMBER YARD FIRE THREATENS WIDE DESTRUCTION
Six-Alarm Blaze Injures 25 Firemen; Causes $700,000 Damage
A Staff Report
REVIEWING the near-conflagrations of the year just closed, few came so near to disaster, and tried the resources and courage of fire fighters, as the 6-alarm blaze that raced through the yard and buildings of the Lumber & Millwork Co., of Philadelphia, Pa. on August 28, 1951.
Before that fire was controlled, 25 firemen had been felled, many others of the force of 200 that fought the blaze had been affected by smoke, and damage in excess of $700,000 had been done to priceless stocks of high priority lumber.
The yard is on the east side of York road, from Butler street to Pike, and is bordered on the north by a depressed freight line of the Reading Co., which separates it from the Philadelphia Transit Co.’s Luzerne depot, world’s largest trolley barn. Facing the yard are rows of residences of the type common to Quaker City. The Company’s offices are on the west side of York road. Adjoining the yard on the east side of York and Butler is the building of Welsh Bros., fuel dealers. This, with the offices of the company, was wrecked as was another binding on Camac street. A row of homes in the 1200 block of Butler street was scorched.
What caused the fire has not been determined but it apparently originated in dried grass outside the wooden fence enclosing the lumber yard. Two witnesses saw the flames from a railroad overpass and ran to notify the yard watchman, who turned in the first alarm. This was received by the Philadelphia Fire Alarm Headquarters at 5:21 P.M.
Firemen answering this call found flames blanketing the yard while they were stretching in.
So serious was the outlook at that time that the next four alarms were rung in within six minutes of the first—at 5:24, 5:25, 5:26 and 5:27 P.M. The sixth and special alarm was clocked at 6:06 P.M., bringing two companies from outlying districts: Engine 71 from Cottman and Loretto aves. and Engine 37 from Highland ave. and Shawnee st. At the height of the blaze more than 30 fire companies, with over 200 men, were at the scene, together with more than 150 police and special details of traffic officers and squads to control the estimated 10,000 persons, and countless vehicles, that jammed traffic over a wide area. Eleven trolley lines were tied up completely for five hours when wires leading into the barns burned.
The heat kept fire fighters on opposite sides of the chasm formed by the railroad cut. They looped streams of water across the ravine onto the blaze, telegraph poles besides them catching fire as they worked.
The heat sent nearby residents scattering, some taking their possessions with them. Bits of charred wood were carried for miles, showering parts of Germantown. A spark drifted into a bedroom window at the home of Mrs. Emma Kimble on 13th street above Butler, and set fire’ to her bed. Another set fire to an awning at 13th, above Pike. A twostory house on York road opposite the lumber yard was badly damaged by flames. Householders in the 3800 block of Camac above Butler remained on their roofs with brooms and buckets throughout the blaze fighting hot embers that rained down.
The number of firemen overcome might have been greater except for the use of oxygen units set up on each side of the blaze. Rescue companies did effective work in this connection. At first aid stations the squads set up stretchers to which firemen working in the dense smoke could come for brief rest and reviving oxygen.
Red cross first aid units and members of nursing corps were alerted and hastened to the scene. Radio proved its value in many ways in both the fire fighting operations and in controlling traffic and crowds.
At one stage, firemen were reported hampered in their work by lack of adequate water pressure. Several hose lines had to be abandoned and were destroyed. Three steel boxcars of the Reading Co. on sidings were reduced by the intense heat to twisted wreckage. The tracks also were buckled.
Early in the fire, volunteers ran a number of expensive fork-lift trucks and other lumber carriers to safety. Still other volunteers and certain Civilian Defense Corps members assisted in the bucket brigades.
Hard-pressed firefighters fought the threatening blaze for seven hours.