Portsmouth, NH Pickering Block Fire, May 1898


Pickering Block Damaged by Fire, Smoke and Water.

People of Portsmouth Aroused by Sounding a Second Alarm.

The first two alarm fire Portsmouth has seen in many months occurred shortly after one o’clock this morning and as a result fire, smoke and water did damage to the extent of several thousands of dollars.

Officers Burns and McCaffery were standing on the corner of Daniel and Congress streets at one o’clock this a. m. when the attention of one of the men was attracted by a crackling sound as if flames were eating up some dry substance. The two officers listened intently for a few moments and the sound increased. They at once commenced an investigation and upon arriving at the rear of Pickering block saw flames issuing from a second story window.

Officer Burns immediately ran to the police station and pulled in an alarm from box 58. He then returned to the scene to assist his brother officers. A few people returning from the ball were on hand and a rush was made up the main stairway.

Upon gaining the second floor and groping their way through the rapidly filling hallway the officers soon discovered that the fire was in the law office of E. L. Guptill and had obtained quite a head way.

The hook and ladder truck was the first to arrive on the scene followed soon after by the rest of the apparatus. The chemical took up a position at the Market street entrance and two lines of hose were dragged up the stairway. By this time the smoke had become very dense and drove the fire fighters from the upper landing. Assistant driver William Fernald of the chemical was overcome by smoke and fell to the floor. He was discovered just in the nick of time and was carried into the open air and thence to the police station where he was revived.

Chief Engineer Randall, upon his arrival, took in the situation at a glance and seeing the danger which threatened the business section of the city, ordered a second alarm sounded, bringing the remainder of the apparatus onto the scene.

At this time the dense smoke was pouring out of the building in such a manner as to make the onlookers think that the building was doomed. The crowd on the square grew larger and larger and considerable anxiety was manifest as to a repetition of the great Market street fire.

Superintendent of schools, J. C. Simpson, has a private office in the building, and a friend of his thought he was in the building, and Chief Engineer Randall, on being informed of this, had the window to his room broken in and a search was made for him, but fortunately he was not in his room at the time of the fire.

As soon as the remainder of the department arrived, a perfect avalanche of water was poured into the building, but in spite of this it was after 2 o’clock before the all-out signal was sounded.