STANDARD MILLING PLANT FIRE
Special Report for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
Houston needs belter fire protection. Within ten years its population has increased from 45,000 to 80,000, and its buildings have likewise grown much higher. Yet in six years it has added to its equipment only two steamers and some additional hose, while its firefighting force consists of only sixty-three men—it should be at least double. Its water system, also, is inadequate at least so far as concerns the size of the mains. The largest is only 40 in., the majority being 8-in. This was shown at two recent big fires. One. which caused a $00,000 loss, broke out in a big wholesale grocery warehouse, and for some time threatened the Houston Ice and Brewing company’s building. The blaze started in the afternoon on the third floor, where no one was at the time, and had made considerable headway before it was discovered. The firemen were at first badly handicap ped by the lack of water. Ladders were run up on all side’ of the burning building, hose was hauled up. and the firemen were busy; but the streams thrown were poor, and the flames licked over the brewery building on the east and north and seemed uncontrolable. They showed round the cupola of the brewery and threatened its safety. The water-pressure then began to improve. The steamers, posted at many corners in the vicinity of the fire, got in their work; the aerial ladder was hoisted on to the Riestter building from the north, and, with heavy streams playing on the fire from this position and from each of the many ladders that commanded the windows of the burning structure, the flames were gradually brought under control and at length subdued without wrecking the two adjoining buildings that at the beginning seemed to be doomed. That the brewery was saved was due in great measure to a stout, double party wall of brick and to a half dozen streams thrown constantly on the roof by the private fire brigade of the Houston Ice and Brewery company On the Schuhmacher building ten streams were kept constantly going. The water company states that the register on the city hall s second story stood at 35 lbs.—said to be equal to 75 lbs. pressure on the ground floor. The senior partner of the Schuhmacher firm, like all who were present at the fire, give the highest credit to the fire department, whose members did all that lay in their power, and succeeded in stopping the blaz.e that seemed as if it would turn into a bad and widespread conflagration. The inflammable contents of the building tended to increase the violence of the flames and to make them catch more quickly. There is no doubt, however, that, if the alarm had been turned in sooner, the fire would have been checked before it attained such proportions as it did. Mr. Schuliniacher thinks his lines have fallen on fiery places. On the day before the lire in Houston he had a building burned in La Grange, resulting in a loss of about $7,000. Another, and a worse fire, which certainly reached the dimensions of a conflagration and caused a loss of nearly $450,000. destroyed four blocks of valuable property, besides sixteen large freight cars -some with cargoes, over twenty residences, twelve saloons, stores, etc., and twelve horses, with harness and stable equipments of the Standard Milling company. The fire originated in the stables of the company, which covered an entire block of ground, on which, also, was a new steel elevator full of wheat. A general alarm was turned in, and the whole of the fire department, with equipment. turned out. Thirty streams of water were played on the flames at once; but, owing to the rapid spread of the fire, due to a brisk southeast wind, the efforts of the firemen could not be confined to one locality, and for a time it seemed that nothing could prevent a dozen or more blocks from being swept away, as showers of sparks were carried to the roofs of houses far and near, many incipient fires being thus started. Chief O’Leary, seeing that it was impossible to save the Standard Milling company’s plant and that to endeavor to do so would be to sacrifice the planing mill and lumberyard of the Harrell Lumber company and provoke an uncontrolable spread of the fire, determined to abandon the endeavor to save that property and confined his principal efforts to protecting the Harrell company plant, across the street. This he succeeded in doing and thereby checked the flames from vulnerable and valuable property. To do so, he bad to order an engine to be driven over burning embers and redhot ashes amid a perfect hurricane of flying sparks. The planing mill was saved, and, with it, all of the Fifth ward property that was not already burned. The choice was difficult, because of the fact that houses were left to destruction upon which no water fell and where no effort was made to save them from the course of the flames. The owners, of course, protested; but, with the poor equipment and small force at his disposal, Chief O’Leary could do no more. It was a choice of evils, and he chose the least, thereby showing his good judgment. The firefighting forces of the city appeared to be face to face with a calamity, t he resistance was not equal to the attack, except as forces were concentrated. Lines of hose were actually kept in service until destroyed b.y fire. Engines were maintained in positions where the heat was almost ‘intense enough to generate steam. One curious accompaniment is worthy of notice—namely, the trouble at the exchange of the Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone company, where the employes were kept answering so many questions from distant subscribers and others as to the fire that the fuses in the protection-board were burned out. Each fuse is supposed to carry enough current for twenty-five connections; but every subscriber seemed to want central at once. The board was a sheet of flame. Special men were detailed to repair the damage and worked several hours in an effort to maintain connections. The telephone company was a heavy loser in the conflagration. The main line of cable connection was along Odin avenue, and everything melted. The damage will approximate $2,000. How the fire originated is not known. The insurance on the damaged property amounted to 59.995. of which $122,000 was on the Standard plant alone. Much of the burned property was uninsured or insured only partially. The absolute necessity for increasing the firefighting facilities of Houston has been so clearly demonstrated by these two fiery visitations, that it will be the height of folly—it might be called criminal neglc-‘t—not to set to work at once on the. work of affording greatly increased water pressure and of largely adding more men and more apparatus to the fire department.