THE SITUATION AT DULUTH.
Does refined petroleum stored in large quantities, in cases or barrels, on wharves increase the fire hazard along a water front or does it not? That is the question which is now agitating the public mind at Duluth, Minn. The Standard Oil Company wants to continue to pile up re fined oil on its wharf and put up new storagewarehouses right in the thick of the business values on Duluth harbor, and pooh-poohs the idea of any particular additional fire hazard from that source. The owners of the elevators, wharves and other property round about, however, as well as the citizens of Duluth generally, alarmed by the recent fire at the Standard Oil Company’s storehouse, just outside the city limits, object decidedly to this, and the city authorities of Duluth some weeks since ordered all but a certain small proportion of the large quantity of refined oil, then stored on the wharves, removed beyond the fire limits. They also revoked the permission which they had before given the Standard Company to erect new structures within these limits. The prospects of a hard fight between the Standard Oil Company upon the one hand and the citizens on the other are therefore quite good.
By a study of the accompanying plan the reader will be able to understand the exact position of affairs which now exists on the Duluth water front, the location of the Standard Oil Company’s present wharf and of the neighboring piers and elevators being clearly shown.
The Standard Oil Company, as has been before said, denies that in case of a fire on its premises there is any particular danger to surrounding property from the refined oil which may escape upon the water igniting, and has sought to demonstrate this fact by a number of experiments upon a small scale, which, as was recently noted in FIRE AND WATER, proved unsatisfactory to all concerned, proving nothing.
A representative of this journal during the past week has obtained the views upon this question of a number of fire department officials, carefully selected as the men who of all others in this country have had the most to do with oil fires, and are best fitted to speak of them, and these men say without exception that, under certain circumstances, as experience has proved, the ordinary’ refined petroleum of commerce will burn upon water, and unless the facilities for fire protection available are of the fullest and highest grade, is very likely to set fire to wharves, vessels or anything else burnable with which, when ignited, it comes in contact. At the same time, it must be noted that they also agree that this danger is not particularly great where wellequipped fire boats and a sufficient number of engines, such as may be summoned readily, for instance, to the water fronts of New York and Brooklyn, can be relied upon for prompt service.
The readiness with which crude oil when floating upon the water ignites is notorious. In the case of the refined it of course requires heating to a greater extent before it will ignite. That is all.
Pour a quantity of high test oil when cold out upon the water and throw a match into it, and the little flame will probably be extinguished— let a burning plank or log fall into it, and, with the greater heat engendered, the oil will more probably take fire and float about upon its incendiary mission.
It is a simple question of the greater or less extent to which the oil has been refined, and the larger or smaller degree of heat to which it is exposed, which governs the chance of its ignition, and the consequent peril to the property within its reach.
All of the thoroughly well-informed fire fighters interviewed by the writer agree upon this point, that, given a wharf or warehouse on the water front, stocked with barrels or cases of the refined petroleum product, if a fire breaks out there and is not quickly controlled, or the stock promptly removed beyond the reach of the flames, the packages, upon their contents being heated beyond the danger point, which, in such an event, is soon reached, will explode and the oil will flow abroad, either already ignited and seeking for prey, or raised to such a temperature that the smallest firebrand touching it will set it off.
So far as to the ever-present hazards attending the wholesale storage of refined oil among such surroundings as those in question—and there is no denying them. Now as to the manner in which this formidable peril in places where it is recognized and prepared for has been met, and, in most cases, averted.
As is well known, most of the water front oil fires have hitherto occurred in New York harbor, and the majority of them around Hunters Point and Bayonne, where the greater part of the oil is refined and loaded upon vessels or barges for foreign or home markets.
The Standard Oil Company keeps several powerful fire tugs always in commission, which, at the first outbreak of a fire, are called by telegraph or telephone at once to the scene of action. The Brooklyn Fire Department has also a splendidly-equipped fire boat—the Seth Low—and the New York Fire Department has had until lately, two, the Havemeyer and the Mills. One of these boats is now laid up for repairs, and her place has been taken by a hired tug ; but she will be out again in the spring, and an appropriation has been also made for an additional boat of the highest power; so next year the floating force here will be stronger than ever before. Aside Irom the remarkably effective work done by the boats in delivering a practically unlimited quantity of salt water in many and powerful streams upon burning property along shore and afloat, it has been demonstrated that they can be counted upon to run into a slip where blazing oil covers the water from wharf to wharf, and without harm to themselves by means of their streams, as a well-known fire chief put it, “ mix up the oil with water, and absolutely drown out the flames,” and, when in time, generally save the wharves and vessels endangered by the floating stufl, even if unable to stop the spread of the fire to contiguous structures on shore quite as soon as desirable.
Again, the ability of a well-equipped and prompt working land fire lorce in coping with an oil fire on shipboard was exemplified about a year ago at a blaze on a bark laden with barrels of the reflned article, lying at a wharf in Brooklyn. From some unexplained cause an explosion occurred in the hold, and fire burst up through an open hatch. The engines were quickly summoned, and were promptly on hand, but already several barrels of the oil had burst and the burning fluid was flowing over the rest and threatening the near destruction of vessel and cargo. As quickly as might be the engines were put to work, the hold of the bark rapidly flooded with water chock up to the upper deck, the burn, ingoil floated right out overboard, and all fire on board and on the water then quenched. When the vessel was afterwards pumped out it was found that out of the whole cargo of oil but seventeen barrels had burned and been lost, the rest, with the vessel, having been saved by the prompt and intelligent action of the fire department. The bark, it may be noted, was lying at a wharf, backed by warehouses filled with valuable merchandise and Hanked by other wharves lined with big square-rigged vessels, and it was considered that, had the fire been allowed to gain headway in the cargo of oil, the danger to these would have been very great.
Owing to the fact that no distinction is made in the department records between fires in crude and refined oil—all being designated simply as “ oil ” —it is impossible to gather from these authoritative data as to the cases in which the refined article alone has burned ; but the men who handled the fires find no difficulty in recalling such instances. That the storage of any large quantity of refined oil endangers surrounding property on land, or perhaps it would be better to say, on the land side, appears to be generally conceded; that on a water front the chances of the fluid igniting and floating, and thus carrying destruction over the water, presents an almost equal peril to property seems to be just about as well established.
Two of the largest and most ably officered fire departments in the country, amply equipped with the most modern and powerful fire extingishing apparatus, both on land and afloat, have been enabled to, more or less, successfully combat the danger from these sources. The question is, arc other towns, such, for instance, as Duluth, which, in the nature of things, cannot be expected to keep up such enormously expensive establishments, but which yet contain large and closely concentrated values, to have such hazards forced upon them as the one which that particular town is now trying to fight off?
FIRE AND WATER’S informants, and they certainly ought to know what they are talking about, think that if these towns can keep it and don’t, they are very foolish.
GAS FROM CRUDF. Oil.—Dr. Charles H. Land of Detroit, Mich., claims to have discovered a process for making gas from crude oil. The principle is to so arrange the apparatus to which the process will be applied that air will be supplied for the fire to bring about a complete diffusion of oil by a series of tubes and pipes, the result of which is a perfect combustion. Dr. Land is still at work on the process, and has already obtained several patents. He thinks it will be of service to iron, steel and brass founders, jewelers, assayers, etc.