THE ORIGIN OF FIRES.
IN speaking of the origin of fires, Dr. Nichols states that present investigations show that the number of fires attributable to incendiarism is much less than is generally supposed. Spontaneous combustion is another cause which has heretofore been brought forward on a great many occasions, when the real trouble has been in defective or careless construction. While dwelling houses in the United States are burning at about the rate of one every hour, and mills, hotels, stores and barns are vanishing in proportion, it is worth the consideration of every householder to know whether his own premises are inviting destruction from fire, or whether they are reasonably secure from the ruin brought by that element. In The Chronicle fire tables of 1884, incendiarism is placed at the top of a list of some twenty-seven causes. Next in this fatal list comes defective flues, but it is questionable whether they have been given the rank they cteserve. Dr. Nichols mentions as a notable example of the complete carelessness possible in this direction, that the handsome residence of a neighbor got on fire three times within one month, and that on each occasion the narrowly escaped destruction was directly traceable to defective construction. In the first instance, fire was due to wood placed in connection with a steamboiler, and in the other two cases was caused by joists or beams brought in contact with chimneys when the house was built In these cases sufficient heat reached the timbers to cause ignition. There are many buildings in all parts of the country to-day where a little hotter fire than usual in furnace or grate will do just the same thing. Every householder should assure himself that no such danger menaces his own home or warehouse. Continued contact of wood with hot brickwork or heated currents of air will eventually cause combustion. There is but one remedy, and that is to remove the conditions. If a building is already erected, and these fire traps carefully concealed, it is a difficult matter to get at the source of danger and see that it is removed ; but the difficulty is much less than that of starting anew when fire has carried off the household goods or destroyed the “ plant ” of a well established industry.
But while spontaneous combustion, being impersonal and therefore without the ability for defense, has had a great many sins laid to its door by builders whose volubility exceeded their carefulness, this peculiar process of slow oxidation has still a heavy account against it in the list of fire losses. In one instance, recalled by the same writer, a dwelling house caught fire by the spontaneous ignition of sawdust placed between kitchen floors as a sound deadener. The sawdust alone was safe enough, but when it became saturated with oil from the polishing of the floor above, new conditions prevailed. The sawdust heated rapidly from the absorption of oxygen by the oil. The temperature speedily rose to such a point that ignition occurred, and flame burst through into the room. For many years the conditions favorable to spontaneous combustion were so imperfectly known that no precautions were taken to avoid them. Now, however, they have been so well illustrated, together with the large possibilities of defectiveness in flues and chimneys, by a very complete list of catastrophes, that an intelligent builder —by which we mean not only the man who builds a house, but the man who has it built as well—must keep this experience in mind, and see that none of these fatal conditions is repeated in his own structure.
With twenty-seven recognized causes of fire, and any number besides, not classified, there are not a few otherwise careful persons who despair of the value of precautions, and trust the whole matter to fate and a heavy insurance. The wisdom of providing funds necessary for rebuilding is certainly commendable; but aside from any economic reasons why valuables should not be permitted to be thus quietly consumed, those who have gone through the ordeal of a fire, at either home or place of business, know that there are many things for the loss of which insurance is but a poor compensation.