Atlanta Loses Two Men in Big Fire—Several Others Injured When Debris Is Showered Upon Them

The Mass of Bricks, Mortar and Burning Grain and Hay Which Covered the Two Atlanta Firemen Killed by Collapse of Wal

ATLANTA, GA., suffered a fatal fire on Saturday, July 30, when the W. L. Fain Grain Company’s building was destroyed. The blaze occurred early in the morning, originating, it is supposed, from spontaneous combustion, and the fire had gained such control over the entire building when the first alarm companies arrived that Chief William B. Cody decided the only course was to protect the surrounding structures, and confine the flames to the building of origin.

Shortly after the fire was apparently under control, Chief Cody was called away from the scene, but before he left he issued orders for the men of his department to keep clear of the crumbling walls. Captain Clyde Cawthon, of No. 5 Company, arrived with his company shortly after the chief left, and with Company No. 4, pushed the men into a strategic position, placing two hose lines through a window of the burning building. Evidently he had not been informed of Chief Cody’s order to keep away from the walls, and caused a ladder to be placed from a vacant building, some 12 feet away, to the window. The advantage of this move was not only to reduce the flames within the Fain building but to prevent them spreading to the big gas reservoirs of the Georgia Power Company, dangerously near. Six men were on the ladder, others on top of the walls, and still others handling the hose from the roof of the lower structure on which the ladder rested, when a shout called attention to the bulging walls. With hardly any warning, the immense mass of masonry weakened by the flames and forced out by the pressure caused by expansion of the wet hay and grain, crashed upon the men below. Captain Cawthon and James B. Richardson, of Company No. 4, were buried under tons of the debris, and probably instantly killed, and eight other men, who had jumped at the first warning, were more or less seriously injured, some of them being literally dragged from death by their comrades, who rushed to the rescue as the walls collapsed. The wall fell against the adjoining building and it was only by leaping from the roof to the ground that the men on the roof were saved, as the entire structure immediately caved in. Practically all of those on the roof escaped with minor cuts and bruises. The loss was estimated at about $75,000.

Chief Cody was grief-stricken when informed of the accident and hurried to the scene to aid in the rescue work. He joined his men in a determined effort to extricate their imprisoned comrades and the speed with which they worked probably saved the lives of many of them. Chief Cody praised the zeal of the men, and declared that only a desire to prevent a spread of the blaze and put as early stop to the flames as possible could have resulted in the catastrophe. He said he was sure that Captain Cawthon did not know of the order.

A Fireman’s Miraculous Escape

One of the men who were on top of the wall when it went down and who miraculously escaped, described his experiences as follows: “Lieutenant Fleming and 1 were on top of one of the walls when it went. We had no warning as the collapse was sudden. We were standing on top and the only thing we could do was to fall with the wall, having no time to jump. The few seconds that the wall was dropping seemed like all eternity, but we finally hit the ground, in what position I do not know. Lieutenant Fleming began hunting in the debris for the men that we knew were directly under the wall, but my hands were too badly injured to aid him much. In a few seconds other firemen arrived to help him.”

Second Fire with Loss of Firemen’s Lives

This is the second fire that has taken severe toll of Atlanta’s firemen. On May 6, 1925, at a fire in the Jass Manufacturing Company’s warehouse, the second floor collapsed from soaked cotton bales, and six men lost their lives. At the time of this fire, it is thought by members of the department, that Captain Cawthon may have had a premonition of his end, as he remarked, “Well, boys, we never know who will he next. We never can tell. Of course, nobody knows, but I may be the next otic to go.”

Captain Cawthon was to have begun his vacation on the day he lost his life. Referring to his coming leave of absence on the day before, the young officer said : “Watch out for a big fire totno row, I’m due to go on my vacation and I’ve never known it to fail yet that a fire broke up my vacation plans. My vacations for the past few years were ruined by big fires on the day I was to start my leave. Take last year, for instance, the Fox Manufacturing company fire broke out just as my leave started and broke up my plans.”

Captain Cawthon had been a member of the Atlanta Fire Department for 16 years. He was made a lieutenant in April, 1926, and a captain in December of the same year. Private Richardson had been connected with the department for about three years.

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