Three Alarms Sounded Calling All Off-Duty Firemen—Alteration Scaffolding and Window Barricades Hamper Department

THE city of San Diego suffered the biggest fire in its history, when an early morning fire of unknown origin broke out in the Whitney & Co. building, a large 5 and 10c establishment, and later exposed the National Dollar Store building, occupied by a firm dealing in moderate priced dry goods. While early newspaper reports placed the loss at $2,000,000, the present indications are that the loss will probably be between $500,000 and $700,000.

The Whitney Building, one of San Diego’s largest moderate priced variety stores, is a two and three story, frame, brick and hollow tile building, located in the block bounded by Broadway and “E” Street, and 5th and 6th Avenues, in the heart of downtown San Diego. The Whitney Building has a Reichel Detector system and has a divided basement, part of which is protected by automatic sprinklers. Whitney & Co. extended through from 5th to 6th Avenue and also has a Broadway entrance through the Lion Building, a 6-story structure of fireproof construction, sprinklered throughout. This part of their store was not damaged by fire, but suffered some from smoke. A new addition is being built for Whitney & Co. on the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and “E” Street, being constructed of reinforced concrete. This addition was in no way damaged.

Alterations were also being made in the Whitney Building proper at the time of the fire, and scaffolding in front of the building on the 6th Avenue side presented a handicap to firemen in their efforts to extinguish the fire. A temporary partition had also been erected inside the building, just in front of all windows on the second floor, for the purpose of keeping out prowlers during the alteration process.

Side of Store Where Extensive Alterations Were Being Made

The National Dollar Store Building, located near the southwest corner of the block and extending towards 5th Avenue from the rear of the 6th Avenue part of the Whitney Building, is a brick structure, three stories and basement, with automatic sprinklers in basement only.

View of the Store After the Fire Had Been Extinguished The fire streams were not effective until the roof had fallen. This picture shows the extensive floor area of the store.

The Fire

The fire alarm was received at 1:42 a.m. hour engine companies and one truck company responded on the first alarm. Directed by the Reichel system indicator box to the southwest section, second floor, of the main store, they found the fire under such headway that they were forced to retire from the building. The Fire Alarm office was called to transmit a second alarm, which brought three additional engine companies, the time being 1:50 a.m.

Chief J. E. Parrish and Assistant Chief G. E. Courser responded on the second alarm and took direct charge of the fire fighting. At 1:52 a.m. the third alarm was transmitted, calling five more engine companies and a truck company, and all off duty firemen.

Due to the obstructions created by the 6th Avenue scaffolding and the window barricade, firemen were hampered in their efforts to reach the fire, and it was not until the roof gave way that water streams began to be noticeably effective.

Thirty-five 2 1/2-inch lines were laid, supplying water for twenty-eight 1 1/8-inch streams, two Grant Monitor nozzles with 1 1/2-inch tips, one MacGregor Monitor nozzle with 1 3/4-inch tip, one Eastman Deluge set with 1 3/4-ineh tip and one Hart ladder pipe with 1 1/2-inch tip. In all, 14,950 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose were used. Lines were taken off standpipes in the Lion Building, northeast corner of 6th Avenue and Broadway ami the Watts Building, southwest corner of 5th Avenue and “E” Street. Streams were played upon the fire from 5th and 6th Avenues, from roofs of adjacent buildings and from within the involved buildings themselves.

Eleven engines were used for pumping. Truck crews raised 686 feet of ladders and laid 23 salvage covers.

The fire was at its peak at about 3:30 a.m. and from that time on was brought rapidly under control. Additional alarm assignment companies began to return to their stations at 7:49 a.m., the fire having been brought under complete control, except for watch lines, about 4:45 a.m.

Water Pressure

Despite reports that water pressure in down town hydrants had failed, there never was lack of water at the fire. At the City Hall, three blocks from the fire, water pressure was indicated to have dropped from a normal of 85 pounds for that time of the morning to 25 pounds at from 3:10 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. Water Department officials supplied more pressure. About 3,000,000 gallons of water were used on the fire.

Extent of the Fire

The actual fire itself was confined to the second and third floors of the 6th Avenue Whitney store. The 5th Avenue side suffered smoke and water damage on the main floor. The second floor of this section was storeroom space and it suffered fire loss.

The fire loss was held to the second and third floors, occupied mainly as stock room area. The fire loss on the Whitney building has been settled for $53,000.

The National Dollar Store suffered fire loss on second and third floors, with smoke and water damage on the main floor and basement. This store is entirely an exposure loss.

Other Exposure Losses

In five other buildings, including the 10-story fireproof Watts Building, there will be slight fire and some water damage. The total exposure loss, with the exception of the National Dollar Store, will be very slight.


One civilian volunteer, a sailor, suffered severe injuries, when he fell through a skylight, while assisting firemen in taking up a line of hose to a roof. One fireman received cuts on the head when a nozzle struck him. This injury was not at all serious. Other reported injuries were all of a minor nature and the men affected did not even leave work.

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