SWEPT BY FIRE.
Milwaukee Enveloped in a Swirl of Flame Driven by a Gale of Wind.
( Written for FIRE AND WATER.)
About dusk on Friday night fire broke out in an oil store in East Water street, Milwaukee, and before the flames were subdued twenty seven blocks, or forty-six acres of warehouses and dwellings were consumed, causing a loss of nearly $6,000,000 The tract burned is over half a mile wide, east and west, and a mile north and south, commencing in the establishment of the Union Oil Company at 275 East Water street. The fire was burning fiercely when the city department reached the scene. Owing to the high wind the men were utterly unable to do anything, but they worked bravely, risking their lives in the burning buildings, and endeavoring by demolishing blocks in advance of the path of the fire to check it. This was in vain, and all night long the llatnes continued along their way. From the establishment on East Water street where the blare slatted, the path of the fire was in the shape of an immense V, the connecting point being in the oil establishment. while one line extended directly east to the lake, and the other to the lake in a southerly direction.
Chief Foley kept the fire confined to one block on East Water street until 7 o’clock, when it got away from him and leaped across the street and began a rapid march toward Lake Michigan, six blocks away, cutting down in short order one building after another. I luring the progress of the blare the scene was indescribably magnificent. The flames seemed to reach to the very sky. Although it was rapidly growing dark, the east side of the city was as light as day. The electric lights assumed a blue color, and seemed more like will-o’-the-wisps than the lights which usually illuminate the city. From the oil company’s building, where the fire started, flames leaped out in all directions.
The firemen fought like demons, knowing that if the fire once gained a start, owing to the fearful wind, nothing could save that part of the city from destruction. But their efforts were in vain, and tongues of flame shot from the roof of the building and reaching across the street set fire to the neighboring structures. From building to building the flames spread until the whole block was biasing. Then for a time the firemen seemed to gain an advantage and the flames disappeared and were succeeded by dense clouds of black smoke,
This was but momentary, and the fire, which seemed to have gained fresh headway during its temporary lull, broke out with increased fierceness. Flames shot out in all directions and clouds of smoke, carried by the hurricane, landed on the roofs of buildings blocks away. Then the firemen saw that their only hope lay in cutting off the blaze in advance. Procuring dynamite, they blew up a number of buildings in the path of the flames. But this was of no effect. The fire leaped the small barrier as though none existed, and the men found themselves working in the midst of a furnace.
Immense stone and iron buildings crumbled in the intense heat as though they were of paper. Walls were falling on all sides, and in spite of their efforts the firemen saw that they could do nothing. So, giving up the fight on the burning buildings, they went to the surrounding districts, where the river afforded a natural barrier to the sweep of the flames, and fought it from all sides. Even then their efforts were not entirely successful, and the fire continued to burn steadily to the south.
The scenes along Buffalo street when the fire was just beginning to sweep along that thoroughfare were exciting in the extreme. The residents came rushing from their houses to gaze upon the mountains of flame which were rolling down upon them, many of them not seeming to think for an instant that the fire would come near to them. They had in many instances scarcely time to change their minds on the subject.
With the speed of a race horse the flames came on, and the man who had thought his house was safe would catch a glimpse of it wrapped in flame as he fled around the nearest corner, without even having had time to go into the house for a single article. In one place an old man was seen desperately tugging at some furniture, trying to get it through the front door. A passing fireman hurried to his assistance, and by the time he had reached the doorway the street behind him was filled with fire, and both men narrowly escaped through the rear door. In some places people were more fortunate; that is, they managed to have their household goods consumed upon the sidewalks or in the gutter instead of in their homes. Many were forced to drop their parcels and run for their lives. Little children scudded through the streets, carrying all manner of useless things.
The flames showed considerable eccentricity in their ravages. They would jump across buildings for a block, leaving them untouched, only to return later and wipe them out in spite of the efforts of the firemen, who fought gallantly against the heavy odds.
Captain Davis of the revenue cutter Johnson, tendered his crew to Chief Foley for use in fighting the fire. They were gratefully accepted, and relieved the firemen in places where they had become exhausted by their hard fight. This reserve force came just in time, and the Johnson’s men fought gal. lantly and effectively.
M hen the fire broke out in the store of the oil company the majority of the engines of the fire department were at work in other parts of the city—there being at the time three fires burning in different localities. They were comparatively insignificant in themselves, but the engines were delayed so long by them that it was fully twenty minutes after the first oil barrel exploded before the first engine was drawn up to the front of the East Water street fire, and it was forty-five minutes before the fire was confronted by a force thought to be sufficiently large to hold it in check. When the firemen reached the store of the Union Oil Company, it was a roaring furnace of flames, through which in rapid succession could be heard the noise of the exploding oil barrels w ithin. Long tongues of fire were leaping across the street and licking the front of the buildings upon the opposite side.
Had the fire tug been at its own dock, but a block away, when the alarm was first given, it would have reached there in less than a minute, and undoubtedly the fire would have been confined to the oil Store, but the tug was more than a mile away, and before it had reached there the fire had spread to the wholesale liquor store of Bloch & Co., adjoining on the south.
A third alarm had brought to the scene nearly the entire department of the city. Despite the gale the firemen for an hour did excellent work and seemed tc have the fire entirely under control, when suddenly there was an illumination of the heavens from a fire in Hub & Kipp’s furniture factory, a new seven story building on the north side of Buffalo street, at the corner of Broadway. The tar roof of the big furniture factory was ignited by sparks carried from the fire over a block away.
The firemen were powerless to reach the fire on the roof of the big factory, and within fifteen minutes the entire interior was like an immense furnace.
Although a new building, erected within a year, the walls stood the fire but half an hour, when they fell. So sudden was their fall that three fire engines stationed at a fire cistern in front of the building were buried, the firemen about them barely escaping with their lives.
The engines were wrecked and had to be abandoned. Their loss considerably crippled the department. It was at this time that Chief Foley telegraphed for outside assistance, and word was sent to Chicago, Oshkosh, Ricine and other places. All responded, Chicago sending four engines in charge of Fire Marshal Musham.
Chief Sweenie remained in his office duting the evening, receiving telegrams giving the progress of the conflagration, and holding himself in readiness to order additional companies to Milwaukee, if necessary.
The reflection on the skies caused by the burning city, eighty-five miles away to the north, was distinctly visible from the Auditorium tower in Chicago. In the northwest an ominous red glare lit up the heavens, rising and falling as the flames leaped upward or temporarily died away. Great red clouds hung over that city and were borne by the winds far out over the lake. For several hours the weird sight was witnessed by those who had ascended the tower.
The Chicago firemen worked until nearly noon Sunday.
It was hot, very hot,” said Marshal Musham upon his return. “ We got there at 12 30 last night, and were all put to work at once with the exception of Engine No. 7, which was sent with its crew to Station No. 1, to protect that part of the city away from the burning district. Every company in Milwaukee was at the fire. The fire was virtually under control when we got there, but there was considerable of a conflagration there then. We worked all of that night and until 10.30 Sunday morning. We started back to Chicago at xi o’clock.
I have had only two hours’ sleep in the last forty-eight hours, and don’t think I will need any rocking when I turn in.”
So far as known only five lives were lost. Henry Pedenbrook, fireman, met death in the alley in the rear of East Water street, where the walls of the Weise! & Vilter machine shops fell. Both were at work in the rear of the building and when the crash came fell under the ruins. Several firemen were injured. It is also feared that a watchman employed by the Bub & Kipp Company was burned in the factory. A rumor that a young woman typewriter was burned to death in the building owned by the Standard Oil Company was pronounced false by persons who were near the fire when it started.
The total loss is computed at $5,873,578. The total loss of insurance companies will be between $3,000,000 and $3,250,000, as estimated by conservative insurance men. This total loss will be divided between 175 companies.
THF. CITY OF MILWAUKEE.
Milwaukee, a city, port of entry, county seat of Milwaukee
county, and the most populous town of Wisconsin, is situated on the west shore of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the Milwaukee river, ninety miles north of Chicago and eighty miles east of Madison.
The river approaches from the north in a direction nearly parallel with the lake shore and is joined about half a mile from its mouth by the Menomonee river, which comes from the west. The largest boats of the lakes can ascend the river two miles from its mouth, as also the Menomonee for some distance from its confluence with the Milwaukee. About $400,000 has been expended for the improvement of the harbor in addition to the appropriations by Congress for that purpose, so that now the city has one of the best harbors upon the whole chain of lakes.
The city is pleasantly situated upon each side of the river. Its general appearance is peculiar and striking, from the color and superior quality of the bricks manufactured there. They are of a delicate and enduring cream of straw color, which is highly agreeable to the eye and is not affected by the action of the elements. Large quantities are annually shipped to all parts of the Union.
The city contains seventy churches, of which fifty-six are Protestant, twelve Catholic and two Hebrew. There are twenty-five public schools, the Milwaukee Female College, several academies, many private and church schools, three orphan asylums and two hospitals. The Catholics have a large convent located there, called the Convent Notre Dame. Nine daily and seventeen weekly newspapers are published there, also several monthly and quarterly publications. The city has also fourteen banks and a number of insurance companies.
Several railroads centre there, the more important being the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, the Chicago and Northwestern, the Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western, the Wisconsin Central and the Detroit and Milwaukee via steamer from Grand Haven, Mich.
The manufactures have largely increased within the last decade, giving the city a growing importance as a local market for the products of the surrounding country. The shipping embraces a total of 132 vessels, steamers, schooners, tugs, etc., with an aggregate of 39 236 tons.
It is remarkable for its healthful climate and the rapidity of its growth. There are thirteen large flouring mills, a woolen factory, several machine shops, an iron rolling mill and many other extensive manufacturing establishments. The extensive water power of the Milwaukee river is an important element in the prosperity of the place. It was settled in 1835 and incorporated as a city in 1840.
The population of Milwaukee, according to the census of 1890, was 203,979. Its fire apparatus consists of fifteen steam engines, seven chemical engines, seven trucks, sixteen hose carriages, one water tower and one fire boat. The department usually carries 40,000 feet of hose. Total number of men, 252, full paid. There are 1675 fire plugs in the city and an excellent meter service, the source being from Lake Michigan. James Foley, the chief of the fire department, is a fireman of rare ability and cool judgment. Your many readers will regret to learn that he is laid up from the effects of the great fire. _ S. L. G.
THE CHIEF’S STORY.
On Sunday afternoon I called on Chief Foley at his residence. I found him sitting upon a lounge apparently suffering very severe pains. Dr. Ladd had just placed five stitches in the left side of his head. His back was very sore and several toes on his left foot were badly bruised. He did not seem to pay much attention to his head and back, however, but regretted to be unable to get on his boots so that he could go out and help the boys.
At first Chief Foley seemed disinclined to say anything upon the subject of the fire, but after stretching himself out a couple of times upon the lounge he related the following story of his experiences with the great conflagration.
“ Yesterday was a hard day on the boys; twenty-five alarms were sent in to nineteen separate and distinct fires. At the time this great disaster had its origin and the alarm rung, three other fires were burning in the city, and, of course, many of the steamers and men were out. I was just returning from a fire near the corner of Eleventh and Greenfield avenues, and as I passed by No. 14 the captain told me there was a fire down at Allis’. Shortly afterwards I noticed the heavens were all ablaze, and, instead of going to Allis’, I spurred off in the direction of the great blaze. My men arrived at the corner of East Water and Detroit streets at about six o’clock, and at once put forth every effort to fight the flames. No. 1 and the Cataract were the first to shoot streams upon the fire.
On my way to the scene I ordered the captain of Truck No. 2 out. As soon as I saw it was impossible to get the mastery of the flames I called for foreign aid, Kenosha and Racine responding promptly, both of which did admirable work. Kenosha held up on the southeast end of the fire splendidly. Chief Brower of the Oshkosh department also quickly responded upon the scene, but was compelled to leave his engine up on Farwell avenue, because the railroad company could not get any nearer, and was of no assistance to us until the fire was under control. Chicago also arrived upon the scene too late to help us much. Four of our engines were considerably burned, and for about a half an hour all our efforts were directed toward saving them. All the hose we could obtain was turned upon the engines and men, and it was only by the most arduous and hazardous work we managed to extricate them. Had we not succeeded in saving these steamers the fire would still have supreme sway, and no doubt have eventually lapped up everything in its path, including the large stores in that vicinity and the big grain elevators across the river.
“ The fire was under control when the big Hub & Kipp factory started to burn, and within the compass of twenty minutes it was entirely consumed. The only explanation that can be offered regarding the demolition of this establishment is that sparks of fire must have entered the upper stories through an open window, and the highly inflammable nature of the contents accounts for its speedy obliteration.
“We worked very hard to save the Weisel & Vilter machinery plant ; the National Distilling Company was on fire at this time, and shortly after J. E. Patton & Co.’s building caught in the rear, and we were compelled to abandon the fight as we had not enough hose to play on the Patton building, and we at once directed all our efforts towards saving the west side of East Water street. Here we concentrated all our forces, and finally succeeded in conquering the fire, thereby saving the big factories on the west side of the street, as well as the Mendel & Smith wholesale grocery house and Ziegler’s confectionery establishment.
“ It was about 11.30 o’clock when I received my injuries by the falling walls of Weisel & Vilter’s building, and while trying to gain a point of vantage to save J. B. Patton & Co.’s shops. Here poor Charlie Stahr met his death ; several others were injured by the tottering walls, but none very seriously. All the fire department fought boldly, and every man battled like a fiend. Some of the boys were so sanguine in gaining the ascendancy over the flames that we were compelled to pull them bodily out of many dangerous burning buildings.”
The chiet refused to discuss at the present time the feasibility of having ampler means and equipments at his disposal in cases of emergency like this. Everything obviously indicates that Chief Foley and every one of his firemen to a man did all in their power to preserve the burned portion of the city. It is estimated by Engineer Benzenburg that 15,000,000 gallons of water were poured on the fire.