Philadelphia, PA Warehouse Fire, Sep 1891





Philadelphia, Sept. 29. -- Shortly after 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon fire broke out in the basement of the large building 136 North Delaware avenue. It is used by MESSRS. PHILLIPS & CUNNINGHAM as a warehouse for lard, linseed and other oils, and was well stocked with goods. The structure is four stories in height and extends through to Water street. The width of the store is about twenty feet and is packed with barrels of oil on every floor.
An alarm was sent out and in about ten minutes the firemen reached the premises, and their efforts were directed to the oil store then aflame in the hope of confining the fire within its walls. In a very short time, however, it was seen that the fire was more extensive than at first thought, and orders were given for a second alarm to be turned out.
As the flames were observed to be mounting up a corps of firemen conveyed a line of hose up to the second and then to the third stories. They broke in the sashes and entered with their stream and directed it upon the blazing oil. The water stream seemed only to make the flames more wicked, and at a flash they enveloped the firemen and drove them back to the ladders, down which they tumbled, and were severely injured. The hospital ambulances were on the ground, and the injured men were promptly removed.
About this time the fire burst forth in great fury from the Water street front of the building, and great volumes of greenish heavy smoke belched forth from the roof, driving the firemen back from their positions.
Every bit of water that could be obtained from the street mains was now being thrown into the burning building, and Delaware avenue became a rivulet of oil and water.
Just in the nick of time the police boat Stokley arrived and in a little while was pumping water from the Delaware river on the flames.
All these manful and well directed efforts failed to keep the fire down, however, and at 3 o'clock the buildings on the west side of Water street caught fire, although they had been soaked from roof tanks and with private fire apparatus of large firms like WEIKEL & SMITH, the spice mills operators. Numbers 132, 134, 136 and 138 North Water street were seen to be smoking all along the roofs clear through to Front street. At this time, too, the Armour packing place was seen to be on fire, as well as 131, a large produce store, and it looked as if the entire block would go and then it was that the entire fire department was ordered into service, and the police boat King was ordered to the scene.
The energies of the firemen were now directed mainly to the burning buildings on Water street.
The rag warehouse of the JESSUP & MOORE company, which adjoined CUNNINGHAM'S place to the north, early became ignited, and the property walls began to bulge, placing a large tank of machine oil, containing 1,500 gallons in an extremely perilous condition.
At 3 o'clock, without a moment's warning, and while the street in front was crowded with firemen, the tank caught fire, and the flames shot out through the windows and over the tops of the buildings on the west side of Water street, coming in contact with the rear of the wool warehouse of THOMAS WILSON, No. 147 Front street. The contents were soon consumed, and the adjoining property, Nos. 145 and 147, occupied respectively by the Eureka Ink company and G. W. ELKINS, were scorched pretty considerably.
When the tank fell the property wall between CUNNINGHAM'S and the JESSUP-MOORE company fell with a loud crash. This weakened the front wall of the oil warehouse to such an extent that all spectators were ordered from the spot, and none too soon, for at 3:35, two minutes afterwards, with a great crash, the five stories of wall came down with a thundering moise, bricks flying in all directions. Firemen were on a ladder resting against the Armour Beef company. One poor fellow became frightened when the wall fell, and losing his hold fell, sustaining slight injuries to the back of his head. He was at once removed to the hospital.
The fire at about 4 o'clock was practically under control. Delaware avenue was a river of running oil and was utterly impassable. Telegraph, telephone and other wires were down in every direction.
Three members of the firm of PHILLIIPS & CUNNINGHAM were on the ground, but were unable to estimate their loss, but said it would be very great. There were stored in the neighborhood of 3,500 barrels of oil at the time.
The firemen hurt numbered eight, two of whom were hurt in the early stages of the fire. With the exception of RICHARD CANTSELL, of Engine 32, all were taken to the Pennsylvania hospital, as follows:
CHARLES PORTER, No. 29, foot cut.
JAMES SHARON, assistant foreman, No. 22.
Firemen FILBERT and PORTER, No. 21.
FRANK LOWRY, of Truck "D".
None of the injuries were serious, consisting for the most part of slight fractures.
A rough estimate of the loss places it at over $500,000, the insurance being a little over half of the loss.

Hamilton Daily Democrat Ohio 1891-09-29