Why are Fires so Numerous?
It is often asked how it is that fires and conflagrations are so much more frequent in the United States than in any other part of the World. There are several reasons.
In the first place, lumber is abundant and cheap, and this is an inducement for architects, builders, and property-holders to use it extensively, where in countries where it is not so abundant it is used more sparingly, and frequently less combustible material used in its place.
Secondly. Our style of building, having lath and plaster partitions, covering up ceilings with the same material, in all of which fire may imperceptibly make headway, and not be seen before it has become difficult to control.
Thirdly. The frequent use of wooden partitions in otherwise fire-proof buildings. This was the sole cause of the destruction of the Crystal Palace in New York, in 1852, of which all the frame-work was cast and wrought iron, and the sides sheet-iron and glass ; but rooms had been partitioned off with boards, and those taking fire and communicating it to the wooden floors of the gallarics (all built of Virginia pitch pine), the heat became so intense that all the iron supports crumbled down, and the whole beautiful structure was in ruins in a few hours.
Fourthly. In large cities the great heighth of buildings, is, if not always a direct cause of fires, at least a cause of the spreading of them, and a source of difficulty of controlling them when under headway.
Fifthly. The minds of our business men are os a general rule so taken up with the great question of dollars and cents, and how to get as many of them as possible, that with few exceptions they are thoughtless of minor details relating to safety, etc.
Sixthly. The want of a feeling of moral responsibility in some members of society, who do not shrink from committing the grave crime of arson. Sometimes it is done to recover insurance money, when it is to their advantage, especially when their financial condition is shaky, or they are at the point of bankruptcy, regardless ol the possible damage they may do to their neighbors or their own employes. Sometimes the crime has been committed from personal revenge, and sometimes during insane passions, developed by hatred against the wealthy, as the petroleuses in Paris and the strikers aided by tramps at Pittsburg.
Seventhly. The readiness of the insurance companies to insure against fire for sums to nearly and sometimes equal or even above the teal value of the insured property. This is a direct premium for incendiarism. Experience, however, has put a stop to this, as some companies have been such heavy losers in this way as to become bankrupt. Statistics prove that insured property is more apt to bum up than uninsured property, and that the danger of its burning up is in a direct ratio to the sums insured for compared to the real value.
Eighthly. The laxity displayed in investigating the causes of fire, the fire marshals and insurance watchmen notwithstanding.
Ninthly. The absence of a law to make the persons having charge of the premises where a fire breaks out, responsible. As it is, nobody is held responsible.
In France fires have nearly ceased. In the large city of Paris they are very rare, notwithstanding its high buildings and the great amount of combustible matter present ; and this is chiefly due to the law that a person on whose premises a fire originates cannot recover insurance. If one of our contemporaries is correct, at present even when a man’s premises get on fire, the law holds him liable to make good the damage resulting to other people’s property, and he is compelled to pay for the loss which his fire occasions to his neighbors, on just the same principle that a man is compelled to pay for the damage caused by his horse running away. The result is great carefulness and watchfulness on the part of tenants and owners in regard to fire. Another cause is, that buildings in France are built on such principles as to prevent any fire spreading—to prevent them, indeed, from occurring.
Another contemporary says; “ Americans must stop building fire traps. Our present recipe for a house is, practically, a dozen loads of pine lumber, a few thousand cedar shingles, a barrel of paint, a rusty stove-pipe, and a box of lucifer matches. Mix well, and sweeten to taste with kerosene lamps.’’
The fact is, that the destruction of a large amount of property by fires is awakening the people to a sense of their duty in the matter of providing improved apparatus, and establishing or extending tlieir water works for extinguishing fires, and the erection of fire-proof buildings to prevent the spread of conflagrations. The people ought to demand of the Legislature the passage of laws looking into the investigation and origin of all fires, and making some one responsible for the safety of the premises under his his charge. Each tax-payer, each good citizen, is directly interested in this important matter.— Manufacturer and Builder.