Explosion Spread Flames Over Entire Boat— Long Lines Were Necessary—Intense Heat Set Fire to Nearby Craft and Buildings

ONE of the hottest and quickest burning fires that has visited Pittsburgh in many years, completely destroyed the large five-deck excursion steamer “Greater Pittsburgh,” the largest and finest vessel ot its kind, plying the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The steamer was tied up at the foot of Page Street, North Side, the winter quarters of the boat. The fire burnt the large vessel down to the water’s edge, when the flaming hull slowly settled to the bottom of the river in approximately thirteen feet of water, extinguishing the fire with the exceptions of a few timbers and studding of the superstructure that extended above the water line.

Steamer Greater Pittsburgh, Formerly the Homer Smith, Before It Was Destroyed

Sparks and burning fire brands were carried by the wind over a large area of the North Side, some falling on the outer end of Perrysville Avenue, a distance of over three miles from the fire. The intense glare in the sky made the immediate territory around the burning vessel as bright as day. It was plainly visible for miles, resulting in a large number of telephone calls at l ire Alarm Headquarters and newspaper offices from outlying districts and surrounding boroughs, inquiring for the location of the fire.

Heat from the burning vessel, built entirely of wood and dry as tinder, became so intense as the flames gained headwav, that firemen could not get within two-hundred feet of the fire. Ties of railroad tracks, running along the river front at this distance were ignited, and nearby warehouses on the river shore were scorched and blistered by the intense heat.

A large wharf boat, the super-structure of which was frame and iron clad construction, moored between the burning boat and the shore, was also completely destroyed. A number of sand and gravel barges owned by the McCreadyRodgers Company, were more or less damaged by the flames. A large towboat moored at the upper end of the landing, approximately’ one thousand feet above the burning vessel was set afire by the flying sparks. It was quickly extinguished by firemen.

Forty-five sand and gravel barges moored at the landing were removed to safety by two towboats.

The first alarm was sounded at 7:42 p.m. When Engine Companies No. 41, 44 and 47 and Truck Company No. 47. arrived on the scene in command of Battalion Chief Daniel Tones of the Seventh Battalion, the great vessel was a mass of flames from the large wheel at the stern end. to approximately midway between the stern and forward end of the boat.

Battalion Chief Jones, as soon as he arrived on the scene turned in the second alarm at 7:47 p.m., followed by the third at 7:52 p.m., and the fourth at 8:12.

On his way back to the burning vessel from the fire box. after sending in the second alarm, a terrific explosion took place aboard the vessel and the entire boat became involved. Within the short period of one hour, the flames had done their work, and the “Greater Pittsburgh” had settled to the bottom of the Ohio River, a complete wreck and total loss.

Firemen from the first alarm companies, after stretching every foot of hose they had on their apparatus, through private driveways and properties, across a number of railroad tracks, down over the river shore and out over a fleet of barges, in order to reach the fire, had to drop their lines and run for their lives when the explosion took place aboard the vessel. A number of firemen nearly fell into the river, as they jumped from barge to barge over open spaces of water between some of the barges, before reaching the shore.

Two firemen, each with a coil of rope, were detached to board some of the barges surrounding the burning boat, and stand by ready to toss the ropes into the river if any of the firemen missed their footing.

Twelve Engine Companies and three Truck Companies, the Chief of Department, one Deputy Chief, and two Battalion Chiefs, with seventeen pieces of motor fire apparatus answered the four alarms; Engine Companies No. 43, 45 and 46 and Truck Company No. 45, Chief Richard L. Smith and Deputy Chief Louis J. Conley, answering the second alarm; Engine Companies No. 52. 42 and 19, in command of Battalion Chief Alexander Reed of the Sixth Battalion, answering the third alarm and Engine Companies No. 50, 48 and 55 and Truck Company No. 46 the fourth alarm.

Eleven pumper streams were used on the fire through 10,450 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose; 550 feet of 1-inch lead line hose for small streams were used in extinguishing the smouldering fire ruins.

The vessel was 235 feet in length over all. and 40 feet in width over all, and had a U. S. Government Marine License to carry 2,500 passengers.

Ten days following the destruction of the large vessel, a negro, residing in Pittsburgh, who gave his age as thirty-six years, walked into the Central Police Station in the downtown business district, and asked to be locked up, stating that he had set fire to the Steamer, “Greater Pittsburgh.” He made his admission while police were holding the watchman on the “Greater Pittsburgh” at the time of the fire.

The negro stated that he liked to hear the crack of the flames and built a bonfire on the dance floor of the boat with paper and wood and that he had watched it burn awhile and then ran ashore. He had spent eighteen years of his life in different penal institutions for various crimes, and had just completed a two-year arson term in the Allegheny County workhouse in February, 1931.

Ruins of the Greater Pittsburgh and One of the Damaged Barges

Northern California Firemen—Over three hundred firemen are expected to attend the quarterly meeting of the Northern California Firemen’s Association which will be held in Oroville, May 24. There will be a dance and entertainment on the evening preceding the meeting.

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