Philadelphia, PA Franklin Baker Co. Fire, Dec 1900


Franklin Baker Company’s Plant, Beach and Fairmount Avenue, Destroyed


Fire Fighters From All Parts of the City Had a Stubborn Battle With Flames


Spontaneous Combustion Among Cocoanut Products Only Assignable Cause for Fire

Fire last night destroyed the big plant of the Franklin Baker Company, manufacturers of shredded cocoanut and cocoanut products, at Delaware and Fairmont avenues. On three sides of the building are lumber yards, and on the river front much valuable wharf property. But for the stubborn battle of the fire department one of the most disastrous conflagrations in years would have resulted.
Five alarms were turned in in quick succession, and the fire boats Stuart, Stokley and Visitor from the river front gave valuable assistance to the land force.

Two Firemen Hurt.
Two of the fire fighters were injured. They were:
Francis Hayner, of Engine 2; cut by falling glass.
James Sheeran, of the fire boat Stuart, struck on the forehead by an iron coupling that burst from a hose.
Years ago the big property was the Delaware avenue market and title is still held by the market corporation. With the four-story brick factory fronting on Delaware avenue and the sheds and warehouses the plant takes up the square of ground bounded by Delaware avenue, Beach street, Fairmont avenue and Brown street. The plant was heavily stocked with cocoanuts and the manufactured products, part of which is cocoanut oil, said to be highly inflammable.
The machinery was shut down at 6 o’clock and when W. Y. Stiles, the night watchman, relieved Watchman Finley, the day man, the two inspected the building together. Everything was in order. There were no fires or lights and there were no electric light wires in the building.

Revolver as Fire Alarm

“I was sitting in the office shortly after 10 o’clock at night,” said Watchman Stiles, “when I heard some one on the street cry “Fire!” I tried to spring my rattle, but it would not work, so I pulled out my revolver and fired six shots. I saw the flames lighting up the third-story windows, and as soon as I fired the last shot I rushed up stairs. On the landing of the third floor I was overcome and fell down stairs. I half crawled and half fell all the way down. The whole third floor was then ablaze.”
Echoing whistles took up the signal when the watchman fired his pistol and alarms were turned in simultaneously by Policemen McMann, Schaeffer and Hill. When the engines arrived the fire in the upper portion of the main building was burning fiercely. Two more alarms were turned in and streams were directed on the adjoining lumber yards and wharf properties.
The inflammable nature of the contents of the building gave full play to the flames, and it was well on to midnight when the fire was under control. The fire was confined to the main building, and the surrounding properties were undamaged.

Spontaneous Combustion Likely
Employes (sic) of the Franklin Baker Co. say that the place where the fire started was the portion of the building where the machinery for shredding the nuts is located. The only theory that seems to explain the origin of the flames is that of spontaneous combustion, which is said to not infrequently occur among cocoanut products. The loss on plant, stock and buildings will probably aggregate a quarter of a million dollars. No statement as to the insurance could be obtained last night.
Two years ago the same corporation was burned out of its plant at Delaware avenue and Lombard street. That fire caused their removal to the Delaware and Fairmount avenue place. The former occupants of the building were the manufacturers of Hires’ rootbeer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA 20 Dec 1900