THE CONFLAGRATION AT VICTORIA
Special Correspondence of Fire and Water Engineering
Victoria, B. C., was visited by a fire on October 26 which entailed a loss of at least $1,000,000. The fire began in the department store of David Spencer, Limited, about 11 p. m. The two night watchmen state that they went their rounds as usual at 10:30, but saw nothing wrong. They then went to the top floor to have their supper, but presently smelt smoke and saw smoke and flames along the east wall of the first and second story. Someone on the street turned in the alarm. So rapid was the spread of the fire that when the firemen arrived a few minutes later, the establishment was already a mass of flames. A splendid fight was made by Chief Davis and the firemen, assisted by a large number of volunteers from among the citizens who had gathered. A call for help was also sent to the Work Point barracks, and the gunners and engineers at once responded. Some of them were called off to assist in keeping back the crowds, while others assisted the firemen. Others also were posted along the neighboring roofs, where they did good work in putting out the sparks which had fallen everywhere in great volume. The new high pressure water plant was also called into use for the first time, and proved of great assistance. At times it looked as though a large portion of the city was doomed, but ultimately the fire was confined within the city square in which it started. By 3 o’clock the flames were under control, hut the immense number of people which had assembled stood around until daylight. From the David Spencer store the blaze spread across to the Five Sisters block and office building with stores below. The place was ablaze by midnight. H. Young & Company’s dry goods store was the next to catch, then the adjoining offices and the Royal Bank building across the street were also for a time in considerable danger. The Driard Hotel on Broad street presents a rather unkempt appearance with all of the plate glass front smashed, but otherwise it was not seriously damaged. The Times newspaper, which was surrounded on three sides by the David Spencer block, escaped the flames, but the damage which it has suffered from water is considerable. The newspaper machinery has been rendered temporarily useless, and the Times is being got out in the office of the Colonist. Among the losses are a large number of legal documents belonging to the city of Victoria. The plans of the new isolation hospital and the new courthouse in Vancouver were also destroyed. Shortly after the fire started the electric light wires in the streets had to be cut in order to allow the firemen to work. As a consequence a large part of the city was left in darkness. About fifteen hundred telephones were also put out of commission. The Colonist newspaper building was for a time in danger, so much so that the files and valuable business papers were removed to a place of safety. The building, however, was not damaged, but the linotype machines were put out of commission by the injury to the gas mains and electrio connections, so that the next issue of the paper had to be set by hand.
Following is a description, together with photographs, of the fire and the manner in which it was handled, furnished especially to FIRE AND VATER ENGINEERING by one who was on the spot: “The Victoria fire of October 26 resulted in a loss of nearly one million dollars, and the citizens can thank Chief Davis and his firemen that it was not many times as much. The conflagration started in the department store of David Spencer. Limited, which ran through the block from Government street to Broad, a short distance above Fort. The building was brick with frame interior (as were all the others in the 1 lock); the width varied from 60 to nearly too feet, and the height was four stories. Next to it on Broad street was the Times building, and around this was the four-story Arcade Annex to Spencer’s. There were practically no partitions. At about 10:25 p. m., while some people were looking in Spencer’s Government street show windows, the fire suddenly flashed up in front of them and spread with great rapidity. The alarm was received at 10:38 and before the Dell was through striking the flames had rushed up the large central opening and burst from the skylight so as to be seen a half a mile away. The firemen entered the Broad street end with a stream, but had to retreat at once; the heat at the Government street end allowed no approach to the entrance.
“The first alarm brought Chief Davis, two steamers, three hose wagons, two trucks, and one chemical, and a general alarm followed at once The regular city water system has 4 and 6-inch mains, at 65 pounds pressure. The direct streams from this were of course of little service. The three second-size steamers (two Waterous and a Meriwether) handled seven effective streams. The new salt water, or high pressure system, has 12-inch mains in that district, and carries the city gravity pressure until the pumps start taking water from the harbor. There are two pumping units designed for a capacity of 3,000 gallons a minute at 125 pounds, but the plant is new and one of these has not been accepted. Because’ of this or some misunderstanding the remaining lnnip (electrical) was not started for a period variously estimated at from 40 minutes to an hour, during which time the firemen had to tie pend upon weak hydrant streams and those from the engines. When the pumps did commence forcing salt water, the service was entirely satisfactory. The Spencer store was beyond hope from the start, and the fire quickly sjpread both north and south. There being no proper fire stops, it was into the Arcade Annex in a few minutes, thus burning on three sides of the Times building, which was saved by most commendable work. The six-story Driard Hotel across Broad street from Spencer’s was in great danger, but escaped with the loss of most of its window glass (all plate) and much damage to sash, casings and cornice. South on Broad the fire was stopped, at (he Melrose paint and oil store, the second building from Spencer’s, and one of the most dangerous in the city. This was of an ell shape and at the western wall of the Fort street wing. The nremen also stopped the fire coming around from the other direction. In this wire glass windows were of great service. On Government street the fire extended north into the two-story Young building and south through the Five Sisters block, which carried it to Fort street and around to the Melrose oil store. Opposite Spencer’s on Government street there was also some damage to store fronts. The efficient fire department kept the fire from crossing any street, but the area burned measured 205 feet on Government. 155 on Fort and 190 on Broad. There were no serious accidents to firemen and most of the walls stood until blown down next day. The Victoria fire department consists of three steamers in service and one in reserve, four combination, one hose and one supply wagon, two trucks, one chemical engine and the chief’s automobile, which carries a chemical tank. Of the 12,000 feet of hose in service, 11,000 were in use at the fire in twenty-one streams. There are forty-five men in the department. Last year the city was fortunate enough to secure as chief Thomas Davis, a veteran fireman of Toronto, who has entirely reorganized the department and secured much needed apparatus.