Three Cities Battle Holyoke Mill Fire

by Laurel | May 18th, 2010

View of Fire

View of Fire

May 18, 1938

Four Concerns Burned Out as Flames Level Five-Story No. 1 Division of Old Riverside Mills — Damage Estimated at $50,000 — Springfield and Chicopee Departments Lend Crews and Equipment.

A fire that threatened to wipe out a number of mills in the manufacturing district in South Holyoke, and which, for more than an hour today, was a raging inferno, leveled the five story No. 1 division of the old Riverside mills which houses four concerns and laid it in ruins.

Heroic fire fighting by the Holyoke, Springfield and Chicopee departments confined most of the blaze to the No. 1 division, which houses the Eastern Container company, American Upholstering, Raymond Kimball & Sons and Gordon’s Auto Works.

The first alarm was sent in at 12:41 this afternoon and shortly after, the general alarm was sounded and aid sought from the Chicopee and Springfield departments when it was found that the fire was spreading rapidly to adjoining mills.

The two mills, one of which was leveled and the other damages considerably, were owned by the Zeloid Products corporation, but were rented out to half a dozen concerns, four of which were burned out. The city has tax title to the property and there was some question for a time as to whether or not the city would take over the mills and property. It was felt at the tie that should the city take over the property, it would be forced to pay the Holyoke Water Power company $2500.50 a year for water rights and the procedure was not considered feasible.

The property covers 148,000 square feet and was formerly owned by the American Writing Paper company, being sold to the Choral Properties, Inc., in February. It was planned at the time to manufacture cellophane paper there but for some reason the plans never materialized.

Buildings uninsured

The buildings are assessed for $10,000 each and the property on which the mill was wiped out is assessed for $43,500. The mill powers on the No. 1 mill are assessed for $27,000. The buildings were not covered by insurance. The damage today was conservatively set at $50,000.

When the Holyoke fire department arrived at the scene shortly before 1 the entire interior of the No 1 division was gutted, the flames being fed by tons of rag and paper bales. Sensing the danger, Chief Patrick Hurley ordered the general alarm sounded and calls were sent to Springfield and Chicopee.

With all fire hydrants within reach in instant use the firemen were forced to pump water from the third-level canal and six pumps were used. It was apparent that the blaze could not be battled with the amount of water that was coming from the hydrants. The combined forces poured 8500 gallons of water a minute on the fire.

Fast fire fighting by the combined departments averted disaster when the flames spread to the five-story structure housing the Downing and Downing, Inc., paper mill supplies concern and the Purves Machine Wire company, Inc., manufacturer of dandy rolls. The fire sprinkler system in this mill was set off immediately, but the flames had licked their way into the fourth and fifth floors and were spreading rapidly.

Flames Leap Areaway

Fanned by a north wind the flames licked their way across the 75-foot areaway that separated the two L shaped divisions and for a time threatened the United Folding Box and the Franklin Paper company. These two concerns took necessary precautions and laid hoses on the roofs of their structures, read for instant use should the flames shoot southward. While the blaze was at its height the wind changed to the west and toward the river. This, according to Deputy Chief Daniel McLean, was one of the greatest helps in getting the fire under control.

Three explosions occurred in the No. 1 division and forced the firemen from the building. No reason could be given by the chief as to their cause but they were probably due to intense heat, which threw a blanked 200 feet from a the building.

The intensity of heat was so great that the crowd of 15,000 persons was ordered back to adjoining streets in the fire area. The heat further handicapped the firefighters.

After the fire was under control, Chief Hurley dismissed Springfield and Chicopee apparatus and several pieve of local apparatus were sent back to their stations. One pump of the Chicopee department covered up the Central station for the locals.

Three firemen and Deputy Chief McLean were injured during the battle, none being of a serious nature. Dr. George Ross was on the scene during the entire afternoon and treated the injured. Chief McLean suffered an injury to his ribs and left knee; Fireman Peter J. Boher of headquarters received a bad gash on his left hand; Capt. Ernest Guimond of South Holyoke station suffered burns on his left hand and Private Alphas Law sustained an injury to his right hand. They continued their activities after treatment.

In November of 1936 two alarms called the apparatus to the scene of today’s fire. This started in late afternoon and was not under control for two hours. Seven firemen were injured and damage was set at $20,000. Some months ago one of the walls of the structure caved in but no one was injured.

Traffic in the area was tied up for more than an hour and it was impossible to gain entrance to the city over the Willimansett bridge, which was lined by thousands of spectators. All available police were called to the scene by City Marshal Edmund J. Slate and a cordon was thrown around the area, with traffic being detoured.

The cause of the fire remained undetermined tonight for when the firemen arrive the entire Interior of the No. 1 division was a mass of raging flames.

Te finest paper in the world was made in the old Riverside mill, which was operated by Julius H. Appleton as president and James A. Toole as general superintendent. It was in this plant that the world famous Riverside superfine paper was made.

From The Springfield Republican.

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