THE RECENT BIG FIRE AT KNOXVILLE
Special correspondence of FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
On May 5 Knoxville, Tenn., was visited with a destructive fire which broke out at the elevator on the top floor of 120-124 Gay street, a four-story, brick building, erected in 1891, with a basement and subbasement in the rear. The cause of the fire was a candymaker’s furnace. When the fire department arrived the building was burning from basement to roof, and four engines, first-size, second-size, two fourth-size, one third-size American-La France and Silsby engines, one seventyfive-foot Babcock truck and one wagon company were immediately set to work. Six double, sixinch hydrants were available, the distance between each being from 150 to 300 feet. Only one hydrant stream was thrown, and the water pressure for forty minutes was seventy-five pounds, afterwards only forty _ pound pounds. The width of the street in front of the building was sixty-six feet between the property line, and through the street ran a ten-inch water main. About 4.000 feet of hose, eighty-seven per cent, rotten, rubber-lined, were laid, of which four sections burst during the fire. The size of the streams thrown through ordinary nozzles (no special nozzles being used) was one-inch, one and one-eighth-inch, one and one-quarter-inch and one and a half-inch respectively. As to the water: The system is gravity, and one engine did not seem to get sufficient water. The fire had heen raging for about one hour, when the hydrant from one engine pulled up, and the steamer had to he moved to another. This was at the corner of Gay and Vine streets, and the supply of water coming up Vine street and emptying into the Gay street main was ait down, as there was no cut-off at the hydrant that pulled up.
As has been already said, the department, on its arrival on the scene, found the Littlefield company’s building was afire from top to bottom,
CHIEF SAM B. BOYD
writes: “Before we could raise the truck the flames had communicated to the skylight of McMillan, Hazen & Co., wholesale shoe store. After some delay caused by the network of wires and the scarcity of men on the truck (there were only four men on the truck, including the driver and tillerman), we raised it and carried two streams to the top. The fire burned the fourth, third and a part of the second floors of the McMillan, Hazen & Company’s building. The ground floor, basement and subbasement, which were packed with goods, were not burned. Three engines were sent back to quarters twelve hours after the fire started; the fourth went in sixteen hours afterwards. Twenty-four hours after the fire started, and quite unexpectedly, the side wall of the building fell and carried down the remaining floors, with all the goods on them, to the subbasement. This was after all the machines had returned to their quarters, and only one hydrant stream was left playing on the ruins. This falling of the wall added at least $10,000 to the loss, as’it crushed into the basement hundreds of cases of shoes that had sustained very little, if any damage. As the buildings have no fire escape at the rear, and as we only have one ladder able to reach such high buildings (and that was at the front), we had no way to get at the top at the rear. That alley at the rear is about ten feet wide, and just across is a large knitting mill employing about 150 persons. This was not damaged at all. Along the side of this mill, also, is a large coffin factory, likewise a large livery stable, neither of which was damaged. The building No. 124, occupied by the McBeeHambright company as a skirt factory, was damaged, owing to the skylight catching fire and allowing smoke to enter and injure the stock. There was a little water damage caused by one stream playing on it for a few seconds. The following is the loss as adjusted: F’irst Building.— Littlefield, Steer & Co., candy manufacturers.— Stock and machinery, $45,000; insurance paid on stock and machinery, $30,000—full and carried, value of building, $13,000; amount of insurance paid, $8,000—full and carried. McMillan, Hazen company, wholesale shoes.—-Value of stock, $235,000; amount of insurance carried, $190,500; amount of insurance paid, $177,000; value of building, $13,000; amount of insurance carried, $10,000; amount of insurance paid, $9,100. McBee, Hambright company, skirt manufacturers.—Value of stock and machinery, $40,000; amount of insurance carried, $18,000; amount of insurance paid, $7,342; value of building, $13,000; amount of insurance paid, $361.”
From Chief Boyd’s statement it is easily seen how the fire department was handicapped (a) by the disablement of the fire hydrant; (b),by the lack of a sufficient crew to man the truck; (c) by the lack of ladders; (d) by the omission of the owners of the buildings to provide fire escapes in the rear; and (e) by the narrowness of the alley behind the buildings. The water pressure, also, independently of the accident to the hydrant, was not sufficient. This has been for long a standing grievance at Knoxville, where the insurance companies have for some time urged the installation of a high-pressure system, with a pumping capacity of 8,000 gallons per minute, at a cost of $100,000. The complaints as to defective water supply were long and loud after the big fires in the early part of 1905, one of which was on Gay street, the scene of the fire on May 5; where at one of the large hydrants the pressure seemed to be very light—not more than seventyfive pounds. The National Board of Fire Underwriters recommended then that the congestedvalue district should be supplied with water under pressure of not less than ninety pounds, even during periods of extreme domestic consumption, and that the general average pressure throughout the city should be materially increased by a reorganisation of tue svstem, including a new’ distributing reservoir, and a duplicate conduit of at least twentv-four inches diameter, one to be used as a force-main, to be constructed from the reservoir to the distribution system, knd thence to the congested district. It was alsd*recommended that a portion of the conduit used ordinarily as a force-main should be continued by a main of at least twenty-four inches in diametet;, from the terminus of the supply conduit by the most convenient route to the river pumping station. Breaks or repairs to the pipe system in the congested-value or manufacturing districts should not cut off the service any length of main greater than the side of a single block or a maximum of 500 feet. The hydrants, also, in these districts should have at least two twenty-four-inch steamer outlets, each fitted with one independent gate, not less than eignt-inch barrel and connection with main by pipe at least eight inches in diameter, the latter fitted w’ith a gate between the street main and hydrant. None of these recommendations seem to have been carried into effect, and the city’s protection against fire is, therefore, left as defective as ever. Under such conditions, therefore, the fire department must always be seriously handicapped and a disastrous conflagration may be looked foi at any moment. That the recent fire was so well stopped, in spite of the prevailing embarrassing conditions, and that several more buildings were not destroyed, speaks well for the fire department and its work.