Port Dock Fire at Seattle

Port Dock Fire at Seattle

An unusual fire in Seattle, Wash., on January 16 gave the department under Chief Stetson a very lively hour and developed some conditions that are worthy of careful study. The Hanford street dock, which contractors had practically completed for the Seattle Port Commission, includes a warehouse nearly twelve hundred feet long, two stories in height and with a conveyor above nearly the whole length. The construction is mostly frame but very heavy and substantial, the plank floor being double and five inches thick. At intervals of about five hundred feet are strong plank bulkheads or fire stops and these extend through the floor to low tide. The openings at each floor had not yet been equipped with doors. A sprinkler system was being installed but the day of the fire found it only partially completed. Within seventy-five feet of the north side of the warehouse at its center was a new concrete grain elevator under construction and to cost about $225,000. Much of the wooden false work was standing, a fair mark for a fire so near by. The dock stands on creosoted piling and the caps or stringers are treated with carbolineum. Under the side wharves the joists were treated also, but for the 95 feet of width of the building they were not. In front of the dock the brick paved street is also on creosoted piling, floored and covered with broken stone and the same condition extends south on Whatcom avenue for four hundred feet; from there everything is on piling with plank floors. North of the warehouse there is an earth fill under streets and lots. About 2.25 p. m. the roofing contractor’s men were boiling tar in an iron portable furnace on the floored railroad track alongside the warehouse and near its southeast corner. Contrary to orders there was not a proper amount of sand under it. The tar boiled over and flowed across the floor and down to the creosoted piling below; there was considerable fire on the wharf, but this was nothing to the almost instant flash of fire from pile to pile and from timber to timber below. An alarm was promptly given and on the arrival of Assistant Chief George Marlow, everything below the floor seemed burning for three or four hundred feet, while the warehouse could scarcely be seen for smoke. He promptly sent in a second alarm and shortly afterwards a third, for the fire spread as far as Whatcom avenue was paved on piling. The enormous cloud of smoke was seen from all parts of the city and flames darted out at intervals under the floor along a distance of eight or nine hundred feet, but did not pass the bulkhead. The sprinkler workmen turned water into the system at once and water flowed in torrents from the openings, but of course could not reach the flames, as the latter were all under the floor. The two fireboats came alongside but had difficulty putting streams under the dock because of the high tide. The firemen took some severe punishment getting the hose lines in between the piling on the shore side and others did very effective work with cellar pipes put down through holes cut in the flooring. The Coast Survey vessels Gedney, McArthur and Explorer were lying at the wharf where the tar kettle boiled over and were somewhat scorched before they could pet away; after they cleared, hose lines of various sizes were taken under the dock by firemen in rowboats. For twenty minutes it seemed that nothing could save either buildings or bridge work; then the fire diminished somewhat as though the flames slackened when the surfaces of the piles and timbering burned over. The firemen took advantage of this to push under with their streams and within an hour the flames were well under control. Under the street and the railroad tracks the fire burned very fiercely in the timbering and was difficult to subdue. Fortunately, the city water pressure in that locality is over 130 pounds and the mains are large. This remarkable fire throws considerable light on the disaster at the Grand Trunk Pacific dock in Seattle last July, when a small fire among the creosoted piling spread with a rapidity which could not be accounted for. Had the dock warehouse been floored with single planking as was the Grand Trunk building, the fire would have come up through the cracks everywhere and there might have been another smoke explosion such as cost so many lives last summer. The actual loss at the Port Dock may be less than $10,000.

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