Philadelphia, PA Fire, Feb 1865


On Wednesday morning last a fire broke out in an extensive depot for the storage of petroleum, in Washington Avenue above Ninth street, Philadelphia. The buildings consisted of four large sheds and the lot extended back nearly to Ellsworth street. The extensive lot was nearly all occupied by barrels of coal oil, piled tier upon tier. The place was a sort of bonded warehouse for this product, and was in charge of the firm of Blackburn & Co. Three thousand barrels of coal oil were stored here.

Ninth street, below Washington, is built up principally with three-story brick dwellings, occupied mainly by respectable families of limited means – the houses renting, we should judge, for from two hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars a year. The first street below Washington street is Ellsworth. The next is Federal, both of which streets had, in that vicinity, about the same class of dwellings upon them as those upon Ninth street. Upon the south-west corner of Ninth and Washington streets there is a coal yard belonging to Messrs. DAILY & PORTER, and immediately west of this, upon Washington street, was the lost of Blackburn & Co.

Policeman ORR, who is a very intelligent and faithful man, says that about half past 2 o’clock, while walking his beat ancle [sic] deep in slush, he saw the fire flashing from one of the spacious sheds, among the barrels. He gave the alarm upon the instant, and with direful forebodings, as he knew all the perils of the place, and also the feeling that existed in the vicinity concerning it. His misgivings proved but too well founded. Before the nearest engine could reach the spot, one shed was filled with flame, while under the eaves of the shed ascended an ominous column of smoke blacker than the thunder clouds of the tropics. The heat caused the upper tier of barrels to burst; the oil poured down over the rest, ran blazing over the ground, and by the time the firemen reached the spot all four of the sheds were sending up columns of dark red flame that imprinted its glare upon the entire southern sky. Wild excitement and deadly fear seized upon all in the vicinity. – Everywhere there were commotion and alarm. Let the reader light a single coal oil lamp with the wick at smoking height. Let him multiply the volume of that light by the inflammable product of two thousands barrels filled with coal oil, and he will not refuse to credit our statement that small print could be read by light of that terrible blaze at the distance of nearly two squares.