Holyoke Fire Causes $750,000 Damage

by Laurel | April 29th, 2010

City Hall, Holyoke

City Hall, Holyoke

April 29, 1930

Holyoke City Hall Tower Was Ablaze During Big Fire

Blaze Starting in Lumber Yard Spreads Fast; Other Cities Send Help; Five Hurt

The most spectacular fire in Holyoke’s history tonight laid waste a full city block occupied by the Casper Ranger Lumber company, cause a dozen families to flee for their lives, leaving most of their belongings behind to be consumed by the flames, and for a time threatened a large area of the city’s business district. Sparks from the blaze ignited the city hall tower and the roof of the People’s Trust company on High street and only the utmost efforts of the firefighters prevented the flames from sweeping the Skinner and Farr Alpaca mills and other structures in the danger zone. The damage was estimated roughly at between $750,000 and $1,000,000.

Militia Patrol Streets

Late tonight, militiamen were patrolling the devastated are to prevent looting, while refugees slept with neighbors and friends or were quartered with various charitable institutions who threw their buildings open in the emergency. Five casuals of the conflagration were in the city’s hospitals recovering from exhaustion or suffocation, and one man, Daniel Moriarty, 18, of 236 Lyman street, volunteer firefighter, was suffering from a fractured leg, received when he fell into an open manhole while fighting the blaze. Several others were treated on the scene for blisters and cuts and went to their homes.

Blaze Spread Rapidly

Of an undetermined origin, the fire had made such headway when it was discovered, at 7:35, that upon arrival of fire apparatus a few minutes later Chief Patrick J. Hurley ordered second and third alarms in rapid succession. The second alarm was sounded at 7:40 and the general call at 7:45. At 8:30, when he saw the blaze might become uncontrollable, Chief Hurley sent hurried calls for apparatus from Springfield, Chicopee and Northampton. Without outside help, he said later, the fire might have swept a large section of the city and caused millions of dollars of property loss and possibly several lives.

At 9, when the fire was at its height, May William T. Dillon ordered out the three National Guard companies of Holyoke, and, with loaded guns, they began patrolling the affected area, while Boy Scouts directed traffic, and the city’s 107 regular policemen, 23 reserves and 50 specials, under the direction of City marshal James F. Bartley, handled the crowds of curious, estimated at 40,000, which jammed all near-by streets.

Woman Rescued

One heroic rescue was noticed during the early moments of the fire when an unidentified man carried to safety Mrs. Mary Wilkinson, 65, of 44 Bond street, who lay helpless in bed while the flames surrounded her home on two sides and finally burst in to destroy it. Mrs. Wilkinson was taken to Holyoke hospital where her condition was reported as fair late tonight.

Louis Auger, of 86 Center street, was also one of the heroes. With James Yrbrough [sic], 30, a cook, who works at Northampton and who when notified of the fire rushed down to save his effects at 40 Bond street, one of the destroyed tenements, he entered Yrbrough’s home and removed furniture until he collapsed. He was taken to the apartment of A. A. Blair, across the street where he was revived after 20 minutes’ work by Firemen Walter Broderick and Mrs. P. J. Foley.

Water Damage Heavy

The area totally destroyed by fire is bounded by Bond, Essex, and Appleton streets and the New York New Haven & Hartford railroad tracks, across which lies the Farr Alpaca No 3 mill, which was saved by a wall of water emitted from an automatic sprinkler system on the roof. A number of windows in the mill were blown out by the intense head, however, and a large amount of wool stored within was seared or made almost worthless by water from the interior sprinkler system.

The Skinner mill No. 5, located across Bond street from the office of the Casper Ranger Construction company office was likewise saved from the fire by a wall of water. As the fire got under control Skinner employees manned company hose from the roof and did effective work. The same was true of the Farr Alpaca firefighting crew, which maintained its post on the roof of the mill building against flames shooting almost sky high.

Watchman Discovers Fire

The fire quickly enveloped the entire storage shed of the Casper Ranger Construction company, soon after it started. It was discovered by Patrick O’Leary, night watchman of the lumber company, who in making his rounds found the south end of the shed in flames. Running to the telephone he summoned the fire department and then turned on the sprinkler system which showered the building with water. The blaze had by this time gained considerable headway and dense clouds of smoke and shower of sparks were pouring from the building.

The sparks, carried long distances by the wind, started innumerable small fires in the business district. The city hall tower was ignited soon after 8:00, and when employees could not cope with the fire they summoned firemen. Due to the height of the tower and the face that there were no means of reaching it the blaze burned merrily until the arrival of the powerful pump from Springfield under the direction of Deputy Chief Arthur H. Strong. The stream of water from this pump quickly brought the fire under control, but it was not until after midnight, when most of the slate roof of the tower had been ripped off that it was fully extinguished.

Tenants Flee Rapidly

The fire in the shed of the lumber company spread to the mill tenements owned by the construction company and forced the occupants to flee hurriedly. The fire seemed to envelop the entire block from Essex street to Appleton street and threatened the buildings on the opposite side of the street until the sprinkler systems went into action and spread a wall of water around them. The Skinner silk mill was inundated and several inches of water on each floor necessitated the use of a force of men to sweep out the mill.

Farr Alpaca’s mill caught fire in several places on the roof and the fact that the mill was locked made the task of the firemen doubly difficult. The sprinkler system saved the building, The intense heat of the burning lumber started the sprinklers and they dropped a wall of water on the outside of the building.. When the head broke the windows the inside sprinklers went into action.

The Casper Ranger storage shed and the buildings were a total loss. The fire seemed to start in the south corner of the shed where lumber was stored for seasoning. Eight carloads of pine timber, unloaded yesterday, were consumed in the blaze. Seven freight cars standing on the siding of the Canal road of the New york, New Haven & Hartford railroad were consumed as well as the lumber stored adjacent to the tracks. Eight cars of new hard pine had been delivered during the day, it was learned.

The five houses in a row on Bond street and the office of the construction company were for nearly two hours a blazing inferno shooting flames, smoke and sparks high into the air. The fire companies were considerably hampered by the surging mobs and Mayor William T. Dillon called upon the militia to establish fire lines and maintain order.

Part two of this story continued tomorrow.

From page one of The Springfield Republican.

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