THE SALEM, MASS., CONFLAGRATION
Loss Estimated at $12,000,000—Several Other Fires at Same Time—Wind Swept Fire Far—Twenty-three Departments From Other Cities and Towns Sent Apparatus.
(Special Report to “Fire and Water Engineering.”)
The approximate loss by the Salem, Mass., conflagration of Thursday. June 25, is $12,000,000, with an estimated insurance loss of about $10,000,000. These are the latest figures and include the losses adjusted up to the present time. About 1,300 buildings, including 20 factories were destroyed, and 20,000 rendered homeless. The fire which started at 1:30 P. M., covering 298 acres, irregular in shape, about 1 1/4 mile lo_____g. and three-tourths of a mile wide. Most of the buildings destroyed were residences of wood construction with shingle roofs, including many double deck buildings in the congested district Salem Point occupied by the 3,000 French and Polish employees of the Naumkeag cotton mills, the largest building destroyed and among the last to burn. The course of the fire was S shaped and the change of the direction of the wind twice caused the fire to change its direction both times. Lafayette Street. South Salem, was the most pretentious residential section of the city, with many Stately mansions almost its entire length, a wide street with large trees on both sides, as there were on many of the streets in the fire district. Many of the old colonial houses, o’: which the historical old witch city has many, were also destroyed, leaving standing large chimneys with large fire places of the colonial period.
Salem was settled in 1626. became a city in 1836; has a population of about 45,000, and covers an area 8.5 square miles. Its buildings are largely of wooden construction. Tt is a manufacturing city, principally of leather and leather goods. Its surface is practically level with a few steep grades, and hills in the outlying section, including its famous Gallows hill, near where the fire started. It contains many old historical buildings, all of which were saved as was the entire business section of Essex street, its principal street, and most of its other business streets. Essex street and most of its historical buildings and its principal square escaped by only one block. Its water supple from Wenham lake, was installed in 1866. The city has outgrown it and its small mains were wholly inadequate to supply sufficient water to stop the fire at its commencement and became worse as the fire progressed. At times there was only ten pounds pressure. In one section of South Salem during the fire it stopped entirely in one important main and compelled the engines located on that main to go elsewhere. The city of Beverly is supplied with water from the same reservoir. There was water enough, but the mains were much too small for the service required of them. Immediately after the first alarms the gates were opened which connected the system with the water systems of Peabody. Danvers and Marblehead, but this made no noticablc change in the supply and hydrant pressure.
It was a magnificent hot June day. the thermometer registering 89 degrees when the fire started. A strong southwest wind was blowing which was increased by the tire until it became almost a hurricane. Burning embers were carried a lorg distance and caused many small fires, igniting shingle roofs. Some of these fires became a part of the c nflagration as there was no apparatus to extinguish them in their incipiency. There were many such fires soon after the big fire started, and before assistance from other places had reached the city, and when all otf the local apparatus was required on the main fire. There had been no rain for two months, and everything was very dry.
The fire started in a large three-story wooden leather factory of the Korn Leather Company on Boston street, near Bridge street in the Blubber Hollow-leather factory section. A woman who lived close by the factory heard a hissing or spitting sound, which attracted her attention, and which was followed immediately by an explosion, followed at once by a larger explosion. The Korn company in the enameling of skins used a highly explosive material composed largely of celluloid asccto. etc., and had carboys of inflammable material outside their building, near which no one was working. It is supposed that the escaping of the material in the carboys caused the spit ting noise the woman heard and also caused the other explosions, which set the building on fire and at the same time caused it to spread rapidly. Sheets of flames shot up from tlic rear of the building to the roof and the few employees had to rush to get out. and one man on the top floor had to jump from a window. When the last man left the build ing it was in flames throughout, and another large, similar building to the northwest was almost immediately burning from end to end One other building was gutted in that direction. hut the fire extended no farther towards Peabody, in the direction of tlic wind there was next to the Korn building several wooden sheds, such as most leather factories have, and through them the fire spread like lightning. Inside of five minutes aitter the fire started it had obtained such proportions, and was so rapidly jumping across streets and open areas to other large wooden factory buildings, that a great many high pressure streams would have then been necessary to stop it.
The first alarm was sent in from Box 48, located diagonallly across Boston street, at 1:39 o’clock P. M Cine of the first to reach the fire was Fred A. Harney, the chiefs river, who took in the situation at a glance, and sent in a general alarm, which called tin entire department at l:4:t o’clock. Chief W. O. Arnold, who was at his home on the first alarm rushed to the fire in an automobile, and on bis arrival at once telephoned Peabody, Marblehead, and Swampscott for assistance and held a telephone line for an ncrgcncy which soon came. The first 15 or more alarms for separate fires came in at 1.50 o’clock, eleven minutes after the first alarm. The first alarm from South Sale’ a mile or so from where the fire started came at 2:17 o’clock, and at that time Chief Arnold telephoned Boston. Lawrence and other cities and towns for assistance. Engine 4 and Truck 1. located at Boston and Essex sr, is, were the first to reach the fire, which in a short time was destroying their station On their arrival the lire had assumed confiverati, n proportions, it had crossed Boston street and was beyond control. The water pressure in the small main in Boston street was then about twenty pounds. The fire rapidly rushed up the slight incline out of Blubber Hollow to Essex Street, the principal street of the city, which forms a wide square at Boston Street across which the fire jumped as it would jump an alley. One of the large brick gildings on the opposite side of the squar on Essex street was the station of Engine 4 and Truck 1. The mad rush of the fire from here to Salem harbor, which it reached at 6 o’clock the next morning and where it stopped because there was nothing left for it to feed upon, is but the story of all such conflagrations under similar conditions Had there been sufficient water it probably would have been stopped at the railroad, an open area through the fire zone, and about fitidway its length, which the fire reached about sun down. At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon burning embers crossed an open area to South Salem about a mile distant, and ignited a building which was soon burning briskly with no apparatus to extinguish it. and another conflagration entirely separate from the main tire was soon under way. and some hours later united with the main fire alter it reached South Salem and the united conflagration, swept on to the water’s edge, burning everything that could possibly burn, which was about everything in its course. Alarm after alarm was rung in during the afternoon and the first part of the night until the fire had passed the point where it could spread, except in its direct course, which was reached about 2 A. M.
The big water main which supplies the water system from Wenham lake broke during the afternoon at Beverly bridge, on account of the extraordinary stress placed upon it. I he broken main .caused the pressure to drop from 60 to 10 pounds, and deprived engines working in some sections of South Salem of water, compelling them to relocate where there was water. The water was then brought to the city from Wenham lake, by another main through Danvers. Halit the engines at the fire for a considerable period had no water.
At 9:06 P. M., when the conflagration was at its height an alarm from North Salem, halt a mile or more to the windward of the big fire, followed immediately by other alarms, called apparatus for the burning of a barn and eight dwellings along Mason, Buffam and Barr streets, which of itself at any other time would have been considred almost a conflagration. This fire like the big conflagration was due to an explosion, and was discovered by a woman. It is also a curious coincidence that the explosion was caused by explosives which were on an express wagon and consigned to the Korn Leather Company in whose factory the big fire originated from the same cause and material. When the big fire approached the office of the express company near the depot its goods on storage there were loaded onto its wagons and taken to the barn in North Salem for safety. There was a box of celluloid for the Korn Company on the wagon, and it is believed that the box became ignited from a spark from the big fire, while en route to North Salem and which reached the celluloid after the wagon was in the barn and caused the explosion. Several other buildings near this fire, whicn were on fire at different times were saved. Fanned by the strong wind this fire crossed a street, but it was under control inside of an hour. Sparks from this fire ignited the shingle roofs of many other buildings of this section. They were extinguished by their occupants.
The heat caf the big fire at all times was so intense, as wooden building fires always are. that it was impossible to get near to it. and firemen suffered much from it, one going temporarily insane. Many excellent stops were made of the fire by different companies, but a wide open area saved most of the buildings. It was about 16 hours from the time the fire started until it reached the last building destroyed. There are very few partially destroyed buildings in the fire zone. The upper story was burned off of one factory and the rest of it was saved by a sprinkler system. The only building of fireprootf construction in the fire zone, the station of the Electric Light Company, a very large structure, was not damaged, although all the buildings on three sides of it were destroyed, and the river was on the other side. It is in the section that was the last to burn, and the only remaining building in that section on that side of the river.
Two fire stations were destroyed with their entire contents, except apparatus and horses which were at the fire. There was 1,200 feet of hose destroyed in each station, and the permanent men and bunkers lost all their personal property. Engine 4 station in Essex street, a large three story new brick station, was the first to go. Engine 1 station at Lafayette and Washington streets, South Salem, three-fourths of a mile .from No. 4 station, went a few hours later. Eleven of the 16 permanent and call members of Engine 1 lost their homes, and all their property, and nine of the 23 pemanent men of the depatment. seven of them drivers, lost their homes. In all 17 firemen lost their homes, and all their personal belongings except what they had on at the time. Forty-seven members of the Hremen’s Relieif Association, which includes former members of the department, lost their homes, and most of them all their property. The first outside financial aid for the benefit of Salem firemen came Sunday, June 28, from Chief W. E. Cade of Wakefield, president of the State Chief’s Club, who turned over to Chief Arnold $200, the contribution of members of his department. On Monday $220 was received from the Everett department and $50 from the Lawrence permanent firemen’s association, followed by others, and many other departments are now raising funds for the benefit df the Salem firemen who were burned out; some of the call men burned out of their jobs as well as their homes. Mr. D. A. Donahue, of Salem, presented every firemen who lost his property with a suit of clothes.
A number of buildings were dynamited, which was a hopeless expedient to stop the fire as in almost every instance it added to the flames rather than decreased them, which has, with very few exceptions, been the result when buildings were blown up during conflagrations especially in the big Boston fire of 1S72. The fi e made a clean sweep of the fire zone, except for a few wires, and the streets were nearly all used as soon as the fire had passed. Outside tire companies commenced to be relieved as soon as there was no further danger of the fire spreading except straight ahead to the harbor, which was about 2:30 A. M., and most of them remained until after daylight. Including the alarms for the main fire, there were in all 17 alarms, and four general alarms. The militia call was sent out on the fire alarm system at 2:31 o’clock, and the militia, which was on duty for several days, was under the command of Adjutant General C. H. Cole, who was recently fire c. mmissioner of Boston. The big fire alarm whistle which can be heard all over the city, which sounded all the alarms, added to confusion and excitment during the progress of the fire. The fire alarm system was not injured, except the boxes and wires, etc., in the burned section, and was not out of service for a minute in the other sections. Only four lives were lost, an aged man, a middle aged and an unknown man, and a woman who died in a hospital of heart disease caused by the fire. The gas was shut off, and but for the light of the fire, which made the city almost as light as day. the buildings were mostly unlighted. The light of the fire was seen 100 miles. There was no incendiarism and no looting during the fire. Fire alarm box 48 was used Ifor the first time to send in the alarm for this fire. It was placed in position the day before, taking the place of box 61 which goes to another section in the rearrangement of box numbers to make them continuous and their first number to indicate the words in which they are located. In all more than 6,000 feet of hose was destroyed which includes the 2,500 feet burned in the two fire stations. The Naumkeag mills has a fire brigade, a high pressure water system, and a fire alarm system of its own, of 23 boxes, with a regular organized force, under the command of Chief Frank P. Cook, but the buildings were so large, and the fire when it reached the plant, the last to burn, was so great that all its fire appliances were unable to protect it. The steam fire engines exhausted the supply of cannel coal and burned fences and everything that could be obtained for fuel. When a piece of apparatus was moved to another section, except motor apparatus, it was mos,iy hauled by men and boys, as much of it could not wait for horses. Over 3,000 post office addresses ot people were changeu by the tire The fire was so hot that the metal work o! t.ie steam gage of Engine 3 melted, and i:s paint was burned off, but none of the other apparatus was injured, and none of the firemen were severely injured. By the burning of the bridges between Salem and South Salem, Chief Arnold and both of his assistants for a time were trapped on the Salem side of the river. The one building which many in Salem would like to see go, the old barnlike B. & M. R. R. depot was saved. The fire reached it, burned the round house nearby, and left it untouched. An ice house was destroyed, leaving a pile of ice which is the first indication of the fire seen on trains and roads coming from Lynn and Boston. There was a similar monument at the Baltimore conflagration. Before the fire there were 5.114 wooden and 356 brick buildings in the city. The departmtnts to send apparatus to assist Salem were the Boston, Beverly, Cambridge, Chelsea, Danvers, Everett, Gloucester, Law r. i.ce, Lynn, Manchester, Mass., Marblehead, Medford, Malden, Ncwburyport, Peabody, Reading, Revere, Somerville, Swampscott, Stoneham, Woburn, Wakefield, Winchester, and the Fore River Shipbuilding Co. of Quincy. Several others sent firemen only.
The dynamiting of buildings was done by a squad of 20 men in charge oil the superintendent of streets. They dug down beside the walls of buildings, inserted the dynamite, attached wires and turned on the current some distance away. Policemen accompanied the squad to keep the people out of danger, and no one was seriously injured. Some 15 houses were leveled by dynamite, most of them at the commencement of the fire. Though the dynamite made large open areas, it checked the fire only temporarily as the debris almost instantly became a roaring mass of flames, and the flying cinders ignited shingle roofs of other buildings. It is almost universally acknowledged that the dynamiting of the buildings was a failure and accomplished ro important good.
The state police who have investigated the iausc of t. e tire at the Korn factory state that air-tight barrels containing a highly explosive mixture of cellodion asceto and amvlascitate in solution with alcohol were stored in a shed adjacent to the building in which the fire started, and that it was formerly stored inside il.e building until ordered outside by insurance inspectors This product was manufactured by another concern on the top floor of the building and sold to shoe manufacturers to finish tips on patent leather shoes, and to remove scratches. One expert states that it is possible that the celluloid, of which there was considerable in bags in the building, might have been exploded by the hot sun, which it is claimed has been done, and that it is possible. The real cause of the fire has not yet been determined. There were more than 200,000 visitors to Salem the following Sunday.
Universal credit is given Chief William O. Arnold and his assistants, H. C. Kimball and E. W. Hay, for the able manner in which they handled the fire and directed in a general way the movements of all the many companies in service from some 23 outside cities and towns, There was but little if any fault found with anything that was done, either by firemen or citizens. Chief Arncfld, who has l>oen in command of the department since April, 1888, and a fireman all his life, is one of the ablest chiefs in the country. He has repeatedly during the 26 years he has been chief called the attention of the city council to the need of a better water supply, and has several time* recommended a high pressure system. He has many times urged better building laws, with only brick or fireproof structures, more fire apparatus, more permanent men and all other modern improvements used in the fire service that are adapted to the requirements of his department. Economical councilmen listened, but did not act on his suggestions. Their economy has cost the city about $12,000,000. There were iust nine permanent men on duty when the first alarm came in. The department consists of four engines, two truck and one hose chemical engine company, each engine company having a hose wagon and all except the chemical horse drawn. There are 23 permanent and 80 call men in the department.
One of ihtlargest engines at the fire and tile one that attracted the moist attention, was the new motor pumping engine recently constructed by the Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation of Quincy. Mass. Th.s engine.is the only one of its pattern in existene. It has six 6 1/2 by 9 cylinders operating an engine of tag) revolutions per minute wi.h three systems of ignition. Its capacity is 1.200 gal! 11s per minute. This machine on June -1 started for Manchester. N. H., under its own power for exhibition purposes, stopping at Somerville. Everett, Lowell and Nashua and arrived at Manchester on June 23. and at 2.30 A. M., June 24. it was in service at the Varick building fire, and was in service there nine hours, supplying four lines of hose. The following day at noon it started for home under its own power and when it reached Stoneham, Mass., Is mites from Salem, information was rece v-d of. the conflagration, and it went to the fire in t’yenty-three minutes. It was located at a
hydiatu in South Salem, and supplied live tug.,‘rvf hose, the shortest of them 600 feet. which under the direction of Chief J. T. Swan of Everett, saved considerable property, and from 2.30, until 11.30 P. M., it worked continuously under a pump pressure of no pounds.
The past year and a half has been one of the worst for fires in the history of Salem. During 1913 there were 353 alarms, and ten general alarms. The loss was $535,360.41 in property valued at $1,368,702.99, and insured for $1,276,111.83. One large fire on December 30 is not included in these figures. The department laid 83.245 feet of hose, 5,674 feet of ladders, and used 6,839 gallons of chemical water. In a list of 31 cities olf New England, with a population of 20,000 and over the per capita loss of Salem last year was the largest of them all. $12.08, and in the list of all the cities of the United States of over 20,000 inhabitants Salem stands seventh.
The Chelsea, Mass., conflagration of April 12, 1908, destroyed 2,822 buildings covering 287 acres with a loss – $17,000,000. Twentythree fire departments sent aid to Chelsea, the same number sending aid to Salem and many of them sent aid to both cities. 1 here were 50 companies, with 86 pieces of apparatus • in service at 1 nelsea from outside ot that city,
Salem is 16 ifliles from Boston. Its lire apparatus in service consists of four second size steam fire engines, each having an engineer and a stroker. four hose wagons, one with each engine, one motor combination hose-chemical wagon, one aerial and one common ladder truck The two assistant chiefs are both call men. hut instantly available most of the time.
I In hydrants arc of the L wry flush pattern, such as Boston has in the citv proper, and engines have to carry hydrant chucks to make connections. All calls for assistance were made by telephone Salem is not in the Boston Men politan district. The fire alarm systems of that district are not interlocking as has been stated. A complete story of the service rendered by the apparatus and companies oi the 23 tire deoartments which sent aid to Salem will be published in the next issue of FIRE AND WATER EXGINEERING.