Oakland, CA Ferry PERALTA Fire, May 1933
FIRE RAZES KEY ROUTE MOLE; FERRY BURNS; 3 MILLION LOSS.
PASSENGERS BARELY ESCAPE AS TRAIN PULLS OUT JUST AS BLAST FIRES BUILDING.
FLAMES LEAP HIGH INTO AIR GAINING HEADWAY AS FIREMEN MEET DELAY REACHING SCENE; FIREBOATS FROM S. F. GIVE AID.
Fire caused by a mysterious explosion last night destroyed the Key System Pier, the ferry Peralta and 500 yards of trestle leading to the terminus, with property damages exceeding $3,000,000. Three men were reported missing.
The missing men, members of a deck crew of 21 stationed on the pier, were believed to have been trapped as the huge wooden structure burned like tinder and cut off their escape. They were later accounted for.
Firemen were powerless in their efforts to check the flames which spread through the building and, carried by a strong wind, swept along the wooden trestle toward the shore.
Some forty cars, out of service and standing on the eight storage tracks of the terminus, also were believed to have been destroyed.
A boatload of passengers narrowly escaped, their trains leaving the mole just before the explosion occurred to send flames sweeping through the historic structure.
Passengers Escape In Nick Of Time.
The blast was reported to have taken place in the superstructure directly over the main slip from which these passengers had disembarked.
C. F. RICE, train dispatcher; BERT JONES and GEORGE HANSEN, receivers, were trapped on the PERALTA when it burst into flames and were rescued by a launch after she was towed into the stream.
A few minutes later the flames had enveloped the PERALTA, also out of service. The ferry which had discharged the last load of passengers pulled another ferry into the stream. A fourth boat apparently was not in danger.
The first alarm was turned in at 10:09 p.m. and a few minutes later flames were leaping high in the air, the overcast sky was reddened and the blaze was visible from throughout the bay area.
Oakland fire apparatus, commanded by Assistant Fire Chief MANNING BASCH, was loaded onto a specially equipped flatcar and run far out on the trestle to pump streams of water from the bay onto the structure.
S. F. Fireboats Lend Aid In Battle.
The fireboat DENNIS SULLIVAN, of San Francisco, commanded by Capt. F. L. SMITH, carried a load of fire fighters to the scene. Unable to enter the slip in which the blazing PERALTA lay, the boat swung into an adjoining slip and poured streams of water onto the vessel.
Other streams were directed upon five 5,000-gallon fuel oil tanks which had been filled early in the evening by a Richfield Oil Company barge.
Firemen were hampered in their efforts to combat the blaze when electric lighting and power circuits to the pier were cut off. Telephone communication lines also were severed.
Two Red Stack tugs, the SEA KING and BIDDLE, both equipped with fire pumps, crossed the bay from San Francisco with fire crews. Other tugs similarly equipped also joined but at an early hour this morning the flames were still eating away the trestle.
Ferry Puts Into Slip Of S. P. Company.
The single Key ferry in service, the YERBA BUENA, approached a few minutes after the fire started, changed its course and swung into the Southern Pacific mole.
Just as it passed the pier, passengers said, the roof of the terminus fell, sending flames and embers shooting hundreds of feet into the air.
At midnight, ALFRED J. LUNDBERG, president of the Key System, with other executives, left the Twenty-second and Grove Street offices in a special train, but were unable to approach the fire and returned.
An hour later BASCH reported that he was returning one engine and its crew, leaving only one company at the scene. H. P. BELL, vice-president in charge of operations for the Key System, remained at the pier.
Thousands of Eastbay residents were attracted by the fire and thronged vantage points along the waterfront and hilltops, from which the blaze was clearly visible.
All Available Police On Scene.
All available police were called for special duty, leaving only a skeleton force in the remainder of the city.
Special details were sent to the approach of the Key Mole at Fortieth Street and San Pablo Avenue where automobiles jammed the streets, hampering the movements of trains and apparatus. Another detail went to the Southern Pacific Mole in response to calls from officials who said that crowds had disrupted service, preventing the landing of automobiles and passengers from their boats.
Traffic at the Sixteenth Street Station of the Southern Pacific also was blocked as sightseers climbed to the elevated tracks seeking a better view of the blaze.
All available Key System employes were called in to aid in handling the emergency created by the complete crippling of the company's headquarters telephone services were staffed by augmented crews as thousands of calls clogged the boards asking for information on the fire and news of how passengers were to be routed.
Men in automobiles were dispatched over the company's lines to reroute passengers over the Southern Pacific lines. Officials said commutation books on the Key System would be honored by the Southern Pacific until further notice.
During the height of the fire Lieut. G. M. BOYES, of the Naval Receiving Station on Yerba Buena Island, led 50 sailors and marines to aid in fighting the flames. A like number of San Francisco firemen crossed the bay and 35 Key System employees formed an additional fire brigade on the shore side of the pier.
When the fire broke out the ferries HAYWARD and SAN LEANDRO were in service and were routed into the Southern Pacific mole. The YERBA BUENA, sister ship of the PERALTA, was moored at the pier but was towed to a Southern Pacific slip out of danger.
The PERALTA also was cut loose and towed about 100 yards into the stream where she continued to burn until virtually destroyed.
Boat Built At Cost Of Million.
Company officials said the boat built at a cost of $1,000,000, would be a total loss. They estimated the loss in rolling stock at $725,000 and the damage to the pier, with terminal facilities almost completely destroyed, at more than $1,250,000.
The fire was the second on the pier in a little more than three months. On January 21, a blaze damaged 150 feet of the trestle, crippling service for several days.
The pier, originally all trestle, was built by the old San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose Railway 30 years ago, being opened for service in October, 1903, as a part of what was to have been an extensive transportation system planned by the late F. M. (BORAX) SMITH, Oakland capitalist. At that time two ferries were operating and some 30 trains a day were operated over the pier.
The ferryboat PERALTA, burned to the water's edge in the fire at the Key System Mole, has had a tragic history. Fastest ferryboat on the Bay service, and named after Don Luis Maria Peralta, the vessel was placed in commission March 19, 1927.
Oakland Tribune California 1933-05-07