23 Below Zero and No Fire Protection

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The Fort Dodge Messenger: Jan. 4, 1904

23 Below Zero and No Fire Protection

Lamentable Condition of Affairs Brought to Light by Fire Saturday Night.

Building Burns to Ground

Because There is no Pressure to Aid Firemen in Fighting Flames.

One-fourth City in Peril

Saturday Night When Residence S.W. Corey Totally Destroyed.

With the thermometer registering twenty-three degrees below zero and with practically no water pressure, Fort Dodge was visited by a fire at midnight Saturday that in many respects was of a nature unprecedented in the history of the city. The total destruction of the home of C.W. Cory at 209 Twelfth street south is credited to a combination of circumstances, which is claimed by the persons upon whose shoulders rests the property against the ravages of fire to have been impossible to forsee or prevent.

The Corey residence was totally destroyed. The house was reduced to a heap of charred timbers and fallen walls covered with several inches of ice entailing a loss of nearly $5,000 ($119,747 today) not a cent of which is covered by insurance. How the fire found its origin is unknown. The fire department was summoned to the scene a few minutes before 9 o’clock in the evening. At taht time fire was discovered in a small pantry room on the northeast corner of the house in a wing with adjoins the main body of the structure. The flames were soon extinguished, or apparently so, and the firemen remained at the house for nearly two hours to assure themselves that the fire was out. At 12:10 a.m. the department was again on the scene, having been called by a second alarm in a half hour after their departure. This time the blaze was on the opposite side of the house, diagonally from the first fire. There was not water pressure and the firemen were unable to even check the flames. The fire burned itself out several hours later, leaving a mass of smoking embers where was a short time before was a well built residence.

Startling Conditions Revealed.

The unusual nature of the fire is to be found in several facts which cannot be disputed. In the first place there was no water pressure and in the second while not intentionally, the firemen were apparently unfortunate, failing to extinguish the fire on their first visit to the house. The third circumstance is a fortunate one. The night altho bitterly cold was without wind, and in this way lessened the danger of a more serious conflagration. With conditions prevailing as Saturday night more than one-fourth the city was without fire protection. Had there been a wind sufficient to carry the burning embers to the nearby houses the seriousness of what might have happened cannot be estimated.

W.L. Pray, water superintendent, credtis the conditions of Saturday night to a combination of circumstances. “I was never so beat in all my life,” he said today when speaking of the fire. “It was a combination of circumstances which could not be neither foreseen nor prevented.”

Friction in the water pipes and the supply of one-fourth of the city thru a single six-inch main is given by Superintendent Pray as a reason why there was not a better water pressure. He explains the conditions in substance as follows:

All consumers of city water south of Central avenue and east of Twelfth street are supplied by a single six inch main running east on First avenue south. This main supplies all the consumers in that part of the city together with the Great Western railroad company and seven flush tanks. The first mishap incident to the fire Saturday night was when the firemen attempted to connect the hose with a water hydrant on the corner of Thirteenth street and Third avenue south. In attempting to turn on the water they broke off the stem to which is attached the crank. In this way, rendering the hydrant useless. As a last resort Superintendent Pray attempted to close the valves at hte corner of First avenue south and Thirteenth street and at the corner of First avenue south and Seventeenth street. Had he been able to do this he could have shut off the water supply from the entire southeast part of the the (sic) city and concentrated the entire force on the fire. The steel covers of the manholes, however, were securely frozen in the ground and defied all efforts to be opened. Under these conditions of affairs there was nothing to do but let the fire burn itself out. Of the several lines of hose carrying water to the fire one had sufficient pressure to throw the water thirty feet, but even then it was lacking in power to break even a thin pane of glass. Under favorable conditions the proximity of the water tower to the scene of the fire would have been beneficial than otherwise.

“The only reason I can see for fire breaking out a second time is that there must have been some fire there after we left,” says Chief J.V. Lowry.

“After putting out the fire when we were first called we made a thorough search of the entire house before leaving,” said Chief Lowry yesterday. “We couldn’t find the least trace of a blaze and left, satisfied that the fire was out. Mr. Corey went with us thru every room in the house and he too was satisfied.”

When seen relative to the fire, C.S. Corey, whose property suffered said:

The city is responsible for this. There was no water pressure for one thing and for another the firemen should have seen that the fire was out before leaving.”

The first alarm was sent in shortly before 9 o’clock in the evening. The house is occupied by C.W. Corey and family and Mr. and Mrs. Louis O’Day, the latter living in five rooms on the second floor in front of the house. Just how the fire started is unknown. There was no one on the first floor at the time and so far as can be learned no lamp was lighted and the nearest stove was ten feet away and in another room. The building consisted of the main structure and a wing, the former facing west on Twelfth street and the latter facing east. The The (sic) fire was first discovered by Mr. O’Day. He had scented smoke and going down stairs went into the kitchen on the southwest corner of the wing. Finding no fire there he opened the door leading into the pantry and was driven back by the flames.

At the arrival of the fire department no difficulty was experienced in extinguishing the flames after which the firemen went thru the house in an endeavor to locate if possible sparks or embers that might cause the fire to break out anew. Failing to find anything of this nature they returned to their quarters only to be recalled in a half hour.

Not a Cent of Insurance.

The first fire did but comparatively little damage and only that by smoke and water. Most of the furnishings were removed from the house at this time. The loss in household goods sustained by Mr. Corey is estimated to be between $200 ($4,790) and $300 ($7,185), and to Mr. and Mrs. O’Day, who occupied the upstairs room about $100 ($2,395). Mr. Corey estimated the loss on the house to be over $4,000 ($95,798). Mr. Corey suffered the loss of a grist mill by fire some time ago. As in this case, he carried no insurance. Mr. O’Day said yesterday that it was his intention to take out insurance January 1, but unfortunately he delayed doing so a lay (sic) too long.

Fire on Opposite Side.

Responding to the second alarm, the firemen found the flames to have broken out on the south side of the house in the kitchen. It is thought that fire, which the firemen failed to locate, burned between the walls and finding its way to the opposite side of the building was fanned by a draught until it had gained sufficient headway to burst through the roof. After the firemen left at 11:30 a policeman was left to watch for a second fire. When he discovered the blaze he had to go several blocks before turning in the alarm. By the time the department was on the ground a second time, the fire was burning fiercely in the kitchen and through the roof. Water was turned on as soon as possible, but only a pitiful little stream issued from the nozzle. Ladders were run to the roof ot he wing, and upon a porch on the south side of the house, where the fireman vainly attempted to throw enough water on the blaze to prevent its eating its way toward the front of the house. The flames however were so fierce and the water supply so inadequate that the firemen were driven from their position and forced to the ground and the front of the house. All efforts, however, were unavailing and the men, covered from head to foot with ice, found themselves able only to throw water on the nearby houses. An attempt was made to throw water upon the roof of the Silas Corey house to the porch, but the pressure was too weak. Good fortune along prevented the fire from communicating to the gable of the house, which was only a short distance from where flames were the hottest.

Brave Cold to See Fire.

Several hundred people watched the fire in the early hours of the morning, and although the thermometer was 20 degrees below ezro (sic), they braved the elements. The fire could be seen many blocks away. With scarcely a trace of wind, a column of smoke fifty feet in diameter arose from the burning buidling, and after emerging from the shadows of the trees into the clear moonlight, it ascended many feet intot he air as a might white pillar.

The crowd which gathered at the fire was not lacking in criticism, and had the usual large amount of advice to give to the firemen as to what they should and what they should not do. The unconcealed comments of some persons in the crowd caused several of the firemen to lose their tempers, and on one or two occasions they treated the crowd to a shower bath.

Several cases of frozen feet and frost-bitten ears are reported as a result of witnessing the fire.

(Editor’s note: I chose to include the article below in this post because it is related to the issue of the fire.)

The Fort Dodge Messenger: Jan. 4, 1904

Coldest Weather of Winter

Thermometer Registers 23 Below Saturday Night.

Eight Degrees Colder Than at Any Time Previous This Winter – Warmer Sunday.

Saturday night was the coldest of the winter. The government thermometer at Tobin college Sunday mornign showed that the lowest point registered during the night was 23 degrees below zero. The maximum temperature for the same twenty-four hours was 8 degrees above.

The lowest temperature for the twenty-four hours ending at 7 o’clock this morning was two degrees above, while the thermometer showed the maximum temperature to be 8 degrees above. A comparison of the figures shows that during the twenty-four hours ending at 7 a.m. today, the thermometer varied only 6 degrees while during the same period of the preceding day there was a deviation of 25 degrees.

Up to Saturday night the coldest weather of the winter was registered December 13, when the thermometer shows 15 below. The third coldest was December 26, with 11 below.

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