Building Filled with Inflammable Department Store Goods Makes Quirk Fire at Washington D. C.—Burnings of the Week

IN spite of the fact that the alarm was given almost as soon as discovered and that the engine company was only two doors away a blaze in a Washington, D. C., department store warehouse assumed the proportion of a general alarm on the evening of January 10. The blaze originated in some packing straw and excelsior on the first floor from an unknown cause, according to a bookkeeper of the S. Katin’s Sons Company department store, who was working overtime and discovered the fire. This man ran to the quarters of Engine Co. No. 14 with the first alarm. By the time the firemen reached the building, a distance of 100 feet, the entire first and second floors of the five-story brick structure were ablaze.

Second and third alarms followed in quick succession and Chief George S. Watson, soon on the scene, at once sent in a general alarm, bringing practically every fire apparatus in the city into service. The flames from the warehouse, fed by the extremely inflammable contents, in the mean time, licked across the street and threatened the main department store of the concern. This structure, however, was saved.

A Battery of Powerful Streams by the Washington Fire Department in Fighting Large Warehouse Fire

A serious handicap to the firemen was the number of parked automobiles, which were in such numbers that it was difficult for the firemen to worm their way between these cars. These obstructions, however, were later removed by crowds of volunteers, composed of soldiers, marines and taxi drivers. All the cars on Eighth Street between C and D and on D Street between Seventh and Eighth were pushed out of the fire zone.

The flames at their height threatened the whole block and two of the leading commercial houses of the city. Next door to the warehouse, the Potomac Electric Power Company’s sub-station, containing three dynamos and serving a large portion of the downtown section of the city, made preparations to abandon their machinery. The “load” was switched over to the other substations immediately, with the result that complete darkness in that section of the city was prevented. A thick fire wall and quick action by the fire-fighters, however, confined the conflagration to the warehouse. Immediately upon closing down their station the electric company employes directed their activities to arranging powerful searchlights in an effort to pierce the dense billows of black smoke that at times completely enveloped the blazing building, stifling the firemen and blinding them. Five or six large search lights were placed on the top of I-ansburgh & Bro.’s store and in other advantageous positions.

Time after time the firemen were forced to back from the building by falling bricks and stone and seething flames that shot out unexpectedly. The ladder truck of No. 1 company caught fire and began to blaze. It was quickly rushed out of action on to the sidewalk, where it partly fell through an elevator opening in the pavement. Other trucks and engines were run up on the pavement in order properly to throw the streams of water on the conflagration. Scores of powerful streams were directed against the blazing building.

For the first time “flood lights,” operated by rescue squad No. 1 of the fire department were used. Standing at the corner of Eighth and D Streets, the truck with two large flood lights illuminated a considerable portion of the building and helped materially in keeping check on the weakening walls of the structure. The new lights were made by the fire department out of spare parts.

1 he intense heat made it impossible for the firemen to place the extension ladders against the hot bare walls until about 11 o’clock, so that they were greatly handicapped in fighting the blaze in sections of the building where it could not be reached before because of the lack of windows. By that time, the fire was well under control, but burning in various parts of the building.

The loss was estimated at $225,000.

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