THE SIOUX CITY CONFLAGRATION
Specially reported for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
On the night of December 23, 1904, Sioux City, Ia., was visited with a fire which destroyed two blocks of business establishments in the city, with one life sacrificed. The origin of the fire is put down to the explosion of an electric light fuse, or a mechanical alcohol-fed toy in the basement of the Pelletier Dry Goods company (the Massachusetts block). This establishment is situated fronting Fourth street, with an alley way m the east side between it and the Toy building Mill farther east and Jackson street on the west. The block from Jackson street westward to Nebraska street, like that on which stood the Massachusetts block where the fire started and that on which was located the seven-story Toy building, and a third lying between Nebraska and Pierce streets at the extreme west, where the course of the fire was stayed, faces on Fourth street, with the rear on Third street. The Pelletier store was crowded with Christmas shoppers, when the explosion was heard, and the fire broke out. Fortunately these had all time to escape, as, also, had all the employes. In a few seconds the whole interior was ablaze, the flames spreading rearwards with wonderful rapidity. In fifteen minutes, favored by a strong west wind, they spanned Jackson street and enveloped the tall seven-story stone Toy building, and so fierce was the fire that the fire department could do nothing to save it. Southwards from the front of the Massachusetts block, Brown’s business college and the three upper floors in the rear of the Pelletier building (occupied by families) caught fire, and the seventy-three women had to fly for their lives, climbing down the fire escape the whole length of the five stories, the firemen guiding them. One man, who was asleep on the fourth floor and awoke only to find out that escape was cut off, leaped down from the window. 1 he firemen held the life-net, hut the man’s course was deflected by an overhead wire, and he missed the net, falling on the pavement and receiving fatal injuries. To the east the fire had stopped with the destruction of the eight-story Toy building annex. The main building had been practically abandoned, as the water pressure did not reach above the third story. The firemen had carried lines of hose into it. but had been compelled to leave it. on account of the fierceness of the flames and heat The Metropolitan block, on the northeast corner of Fourth and Jackson streets, across from the Toy block next received the attention of the firemen. On most of its window sills, right up to the tower on the seventh story the flames were rapidly creeping upwards to the roof. Right here good work was done by the fire department. Streams were thrown from the upper floors, and, in spite of the intense heat from the Toy building, none of the interior woodwork was ignited. The fact of the flames from the Toy block ascending vertically, instead of shooting out horizontally was a great assistance to the firemen, and enabled them to make a good stop at this point, and helped them to leave the block standing. Otherwise the opening made by its destruction would have given the fire the chance to spread in three, if not four directions, in which case it would have been impossible even to guess at the end. Meanwhile the fire was spreading westwards, and all that thirty-five firemen could do was to throw water on the walls in streams that could not do more than reach far below the roof. A number of powerful steamers would have been a boon at such a crisis; but Chief Kellogg was handicapped by their absence. The Gilliette Hardware company’s building and that of the Johnson and Aronson clothing store on Nebraska street had caught. These were in the heart of a solid block and were now past help. All that now remained of the Massachusetts and Toy blocks was two high columns of brickwork. Except these the walls had fallen in on every side. The Nebraska street buildings had caught in the rear of the Prugh establishment and had worked north the Gilliette Hardware company’s store, where much powder and other different explosives were kept. These caused heavy explosions, and the showers of sparks flying high into the air threatened the rest of the city. The citizens, however, rose to the occasion and by forming bucket brigades kept the roofs from catching fire. Every building in the block between Jackson and Nebraska streets was now ablaze, and before long the flames had crossed the latter street and attacked the Warfield-Pratt-Howell wholesale grocery building, which soon shared the fate of the others. The fire kept advancing westward and southward, and the streams of water thrown seemed to*have no effect. Three companies of Warfield firemen labored their hardest, but to no purpose, and at last it was resolved to have recourse to dynamite, as ahead of the fire lay the Selzer Bros.– wholesale licpior house, fronting on Pierce street, just south of Fourth street. The Tribune building stood a quarter of a block south of the Selzer building, the Northwestern National bank building, at the corner of Fourth and Pierce streets; and the West hotel, on the southeast corner of the block. Across Third street to the south the six-story Tolerton & Stetson warehouse; across Pierce street to the west stood the Shenkberg and Davidson buildings. The flames quickly leaped across the narrow alley from the Warfield-Pratt-Howell’s warehouse, and the Selzer building was alight in no time, as was, also, the West hotel, separated by a quarter of a block. The fight was to be round the Tribune, the Davidson and the Shenkberg buildings. The explosions from the dynamite and the liquor stored in the Selzer warehouse had somewhat stopped the course of the flames. The fire had certainly become divided. One portion had invaded the Selzer house; the other, the West hotel, and Chief Kellogg saw that, if the blaze in each could be controled, the solid wall of fire would be broken. A force of volunteers undertook to defend the Tribune office. Wherever a spark was seen a bucketful of water drowned it out; every small outburst of flames was smothered. In this way the firemen were enabled to give their whole attention to the Selzer building where the main fire was. Meanwhile the column of heated air drew towards itself the cold air northeast of the flames, the suction being all towards the Tribune building. It was strong enough and continuous enough to keep the flames back, and although the Selzer and the West buildings kept blazing fiercely till the walls fell, the Tribune building stood intact. The Northwestern National bank in Fourth and Pierce streets, though outside of the direct course of the fire was threatened, as was the City National bank at the northwest corner of the block to the east. Fighting the flames from Fourth street, the firemen succeeded in stemming the course of the conflagration before it enveloped the Northwestern bank portion of the quarter block. Round on Pierce street the blaze in the Selzer building was gradually subsiding; the West hotel was now a mass of redhot cinders. But at 11:30 o’clock, after nearly four hours of the hardest of fighting the fire was under control, just as a detachment of the Council Bluffs fire department made its appearance with its apparatus after a journey of 100 miles at as full speed as a special train could bring them. The brunt of the fighting was over; but there yet remained much to be done, and right willingly and pluckily the Council Bluffs men set to work to relieve their worn-out comrades. The firemen could not have done finer work. Chief Nicholson of the Council Bluffs department said that the Sioux City department is made up of the best firefighters he ever saw. With only thirty-five men and no engines they were able to cope with the fire and have it under control within two hours after it started. He says that ‘‘especially good work was done in saving the buildings across the street from the fire. These buildings were scorched, having caught fire several times from the intense heat, yet, by the excellent work of the department, they sustained comparatively slight damage.” Chief G. M. Kellogg, thus writes to FIRF. AND WATER ENGINEERING as to how he and his men worked:
‘‘We had working on the fire six hose companies, two truck companies and two chemical companies, thirty-five paid firemen—our entire force —and about an equal number of volunteers that we drafted that night. We had fifteen streams of water on the fire, all of the hose that we had on the hose wagons and all of our reserve hose, about 10,500 feet altogether, was in use. Our hardest fight was on Pierce street on the west side of the fire, to keep it from crossing the street on the west, and on Fourth street, to keep it from crossing from the south side of the street to the north side. We had also quite a fight on the east side on the alley between Jackson and Jones streets. There were no serious accidents to the firemen. One man (not a fireman) was killed by jumping from the fourth story of the Massachusetts building. It seems marvelous to me that we prevented the flames from crossing Pierce street on the west and Fourth street on the north. If it had ever crossed either of those streets, there is no knowing where we should have stopped them. I believe they would have burned the entire business section. I have talked with several insurance adjusters and there is nothing but praise tor our work. Chief Nicholson of Council Bluffs, la., was up here and was equally loud in his praise.”
Sioux City, it may be supposed has learned some lessons which will profit it in the future. In the first place, even with a nominal fire pres sure of 100 pounds—one which must naturally be greatly diminished when as many as fifteen streams are being thrown simultaneously—it is not safe to trust the hydrant pressure alone, but a matter of economy and commonsense to have an adequate number of first-class steamers on hand, especially in a city where high buildings abound in the congested business section. More hose should also be always ready in reserve, at least two more aerial trucks should be added to the one already in use, and at least one more hook and ladder truck. For a city with a fire area of about 35,000 acres it is evident that two hook and ladder trucks and aerial truck are by no means sufficient. A water tower with two or three Deluge sets should likewise form part of the equipment, while additions might safely be made to the existing number of chemical engines (three) by another chemical hose wagon or chemical hook and ladder wagon, or both, and to that of the existing five hose wagons and reels, as additional hose is bought. That the number of firemen should also be added to needs no pointing out, as the experience of the great fire of last month shows that thirty-five men—even although all are full paid—do not begin to come up to the requirements of a city of such importance and with so many high buildings as Sioux City. As to the buildings themselves—at least those in the congested business districts it is clear that very little, if anv attention is paid not to say to fireproof construction, but to ordinary, commonsense construction. That they went down like houses of cards shows how Himsily they were built; that they caught fire one from another proves that the outside exposure was large and never entered into the minds of owners, contractors or municipal authorities. In future, it is to be hoped a little attention will be paid to such subjects, as also to the storage of combustibles, a superfluity of which was apparently present, at least in the burned hardware house. The electrical wiring both exposed (overhead) and hidden might like wise be a matter of careful supervision. To do all this properly is more than one man can pretend to undertake, nor is it fair to expect that on the shoulders of the chief of any fire department should be imposed any such burden.
The photographs from which the illustrations accompanying this article were made were taken expressly for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.
At Medina, N. Y., two engineers have submitted estimates to the Medina common council on the expense of installing complete new systems of waterworks in the village, under two different plans of distribution, and estimates of the cost of connecting the new wells at Shelby by pipe line to Medina. The estimates of the engineers, J. F. Witmer, of Buffalo, and Henry C. Hodgkins, of Syracuse, are practically alike. Both estimate the total expense of duplicating the present distribution system in Medina, installing a pumping plant at Shelby, and pipe line, at under $100,000.