Duluth, MN elevator and dock fire, Jun 1908


Flames Threaten Harbor Property and Only Desperate Fight on Part of the Fire Department and the Tug Crews Prevent a Disaster Wholesale in Extent.

Consolidated Elevator Company Loses "D" House and Contents. Northern Pacific Freight House and Wharf Burn Like Tinder. Grain Plant Will Be Rebuilt.


Total loss by fire...................$1,011,520
Elevator D, building............... 300,000
Wheat, 377,000 bushels....... 403,390
Fax [sic], 227,000 bushels.... 274,670
Barley, 7,000 bushels........... 3,360
Northern Pacific dock, No. 1.. 30,000

The fire loss was confined to this dock and elevator though some surrounding property suffered by water, though not heavily.

Over a million dollars' worth of property was consumed within two hours yesterday afternoon on Rice's Point by a fire which razed Elevator D of the Consolidated Elevator company to the water's edge, destroyed No. 1 dock and sheds of the Nothern Pacific company and imperiled surrounding property valued at another million.

Valiant work by a dozen tug boats which aided the fire department is probably all that saved the bay front plants at that point from being entirely swept away.

The burned elevator will be rebuilt in time to care for the fall crop.

While the firemen combatted the flames at Elevator D, the tugs kept steady streams on all surrounding buildings, from the slips, within a radius of two blocks. The heat from the flames, which shot in the air high above the structure and were fanned by a brisk breeze, was intense and kept the nearby docks and elevators almost at the point of iginiting. The automatic pumping station between Elevator D and Elevators B and C, which are situated back of D, worked continually and with the aid of the fire tugs America and Sinclair the elevator was kept cool enough to prevent its catching fire.

Is a Raging Furnace.

From 12:35, when the fire was discovered, until 4 o'clock the elevator was a raging furnace, though after two hours of fierce burning the fire had spent its force and gradually abated until 8 o'clock last night, when only the wreckage smouldered.

A small explosion, the origin of which can not be accounted for, was quickly followed by the bursting of the flames through the roof and before the departmentarrived the structure was a veritable volcano. Besides the firemen and the tug crews, no one dared to approach closer than a block or two. The firemen braved the intense heat manuflly and only when absolutely forced to do so did they retreat.

One of the spectacular incidents of the holocaust was the collapse of the four walls after the fire had raged for about an hour. Slowly the huge pillars of flame curled inward, acting as so much more kindling, and then the furnace flamed out with renewed fury. The heat thrown out by this fiery pit was so great that it could be felt blocks away.

Workmen At Dinner.

The fire broke out during the noon hour and none of the workmen were in the elevator. Thus possibly a loss of life was averted, as the flames spread at such a wild pace that it would have been almost impossible for anyone to have left the building after the explosion.

The theory was advanced by officials of the company that the conflagration might have been started by friction in the machinery - probably in the upper stories of the structure. Sparks may have fallen into piles of the dry grain dust, causing the explosion which spread the fire to all parts of the building. An investigation is being conducted by the insurance companies.

The blaze seemed to envelop the building all at once and the flames poured out on all sides, defying the approach of the firemen.

Bucket Brigade's Good Work.

The Pittsburg Coal company saved its docks and coal piles, which were directly across the slip from the elevators, from burining by a bucket bridgade of nearly a hundred men, who worked incessantly for hours in the fierce heat hauling water from the slips. They kept the docks and sheds continually soaked. Several men were overcome by the heat, but were quickly revived with cold water and returned to work with a determination which was admirable.

East of the elevators across the water for a distance of nearly a block much property was endangered owing to the direction of the wind, which was from the northwest.

Fire Starts to Spread.

Lumber piles and dry timbers caught fire time and time again, but the tug boats directed most of their efforts in this locality and they won the day. Two boats played streams on the Universal mill buildings and there was also a crew of men with buckets fighting all outbreaks of the flames. The Duluth Dredge & Dock company buildings were also in danger but were saved by this method. The Grignon shipyards caught fire several times, but the tug crews never let the flames get headway. The tug Helm protected the city dock and saved the steamer Easton from the flames.

The Northern Pacific did not suffer as great loss as might have been possible, owing to the fact that the freight shed which was destroyed had been recently emptied. The dock and buildings, however, were burned to the water, entailing a loss of $30,000. The No. 2 dock, which was heavily stocked, was saved, but with great difficulty. Every company of the fire department, with the exception of No. 6 at Lakeside, was in the fight almost from the start and did not leave the locality until the surrounding property was out of danger, late in the afternoon.

Doomed From the Start.

Elevator D was doomed from the beginning and although one or two streams could reach the buildings it was a hopeless fight against the blazing furnace.

"The elevator which was lost was valued by the company at $300,000," said President George Spencer of the company, last night. In the structure was 377,000 bushels of wheat valued at $403,390; 227,000 bushels of flax, valued at $274,670, and 7,000 bushels of barley valued at $3,360. The total loss to the Consolidated company was estimated at $981,420, fully covered by insurance. The Consolidated company is mostly controlled by Boston capital and George Spencer of Duluth as president. The other officers are: Frank B. Kellogg, vice president; G. H. Spencer, secretary and general manager and W. H. Kliehli, assistant secretary. The company had offices in the Board of Trade Building.

Respond to First Alarm.

Chief Black of the fire department responded on the first alarm with Assistant Chief Randall, and both were on the ground all the time until nothing but the smoldering ruins remained.

The fire will probably burn for several days and one company with one of the tug boats will remain on the ground to intercept any outbreaks. Up to late last night two streams were still playing on the fire.

Several thousand people lined the docks at a safe distance and many more were on the bay in boats and watched the aweinspiring spectacle during the entire afternoon. Interest was centered on the direction of the flames which at times seemed to reach for the other elevators, where the firemen and tug men risked their lives time and time again to hold the streams against the red hot walls.

Show Admirable Pluck.

Never has a fire in Duluth shown the pluck of its fire fighters as the one yesterday afternoon. While a company held the streams on the burning masses other men had to throw water on them in buckets full to keep their clothing from catching fire, so intense was the heat. Full pails of water were thrown in their face, but never once did they waver until the call came from the chief for them to retire and another relay to take their places.

George Spencer stated last night that the elevator will be rebuilt as soon as the ruins are cool, and will be ready to help handle the crop the coming fall.

Fifteen patrolmen were detailed to the fire soon after the alarm came in, by Captain Fiskett. They had hard work in keeping the thousands who gathered from dangerous places and if it had not been for the vigilance of these officers someone might have been croweded off the docks, which were thronged on all sides.

There was not much difficulty in keeping the crowds out of the firemen's way as the heat was too intense to permit a near approach. Scores were also exposed to danger from flying embers which in some instances were carried by the wind for blocks. Not one accident was reported to the police or came to their notice.

The Duluth News-Tribune, Duluth, MN 27 Jun 1908



Fire Tugs Sinclair and America Probably Prevented Wholesale Conflagration.

At 12:30 yesterday one of the men at the tug dock noticed flames coming from the roof of Elevator D. He immediately gave the alarm and four tugs were at once made busy. The B. B. Inman was sent to the steamer F. B. Squire, which has been at No. 1, Northern Pacific dock all winter and is just being fitted out for inspection, and which was not able to move under her own steam. The Squire was promptly hauled out, and put to an anchor in the harbor basin.

The J. D. Sinclair, which is fitted with a standpipe for fire purposes, at once went as near to the fire as possible and threw an effective stream clear over elevator C, and in a large measure helped to save that structure. She was soon joined by the Union company's fire tug America, which is chartered by the Messabe ore docks for their protection, and these two powerful boats had most to do in confining the fire to elevator D and Northern Pacific Dock No. 1.

The high wind that prevailed from the west carried flaming shingles, boards, and other debris all over the lime kiln slip, the city dock and the Northern Pacific docks Nos. 3 and 4, and they were only saved by the hard work of a bucket brigade aided by the tug Helm and the steamship Juniata.

The crew of the Helm probably saved the city dock and warehouse and contents from destruction by promptly smashing open the doors and extinguishing a lively blaze that had started somehow on the inside.

The tugs Superior and Record took each a company of firemen on board, who climbed upon the roofs of the frieght warehouses, where the tugs kept their hose and buckets supplied with water unitl the department had the fire under control.

The work done by the Sinclair, Capt. Hoy, and the America, Capt. Ditzel, was the admiration of all who saw them throw their powerful streams with their standpipes clean over elevator C and put out several fires that were started there.

The splendid work done by these tugs was an object lesson. Duluth harbor can no longer afford to be without its own fire tug.

The office of the Consolidated Elevator Company telephoned Capt. Vroman during the progress of the fire saying that but for his tugs its whole system probably would have been laid in ashes. The D. M. & N. Co. was also heartily thanked for so promptly sending the fire chartered tug America to the aid of the Sinclair, leaving their own docks without protection.

Capt. Vrotman had his work cut out for himself in putting out fires at the city dock, the Omaha dock and in the lime kiln slip. He was jumping from one tug to another all the afternoon. When the roof of elevator D fell in great masses of charred timbers broke away and floated out into the harbor.

The Sinclair having finished her work at the fire, then steamed out into the bay and extinguished these masses. The tugs Helm and Carrington, being wooden boats, were employed on the outskirts of the blaze, where they did valuable work.

The Duluth News-Tribune, Duluth, MN 27 Jun 1908