Chicago, IL Lumber Yard Fire, May 1885

Lumber Yards on Fire.

Over $700,000 Worth of Property Destroyed In Chicago.

Chicago, May 8.-For more that eight hours to-day the entire Fire Department of Chicago, 200 of her police, and a thousand of her citizens fought and struggled with one of the most stubborn fires which the city has seen since 1871. The scene was the immense lumber district on the southwestern outskirts, six miles from the City hall, and less that a mile from the stock yards. Here, lying on either side of the Chicago River, is, or was, a vast field of pine lumber skirting the river front, extending back for several blocks, piled in stacks from 40 to 50 feet in height and averaging 40,000 feet to the stack. At 12:30 o’clock to-day a workman rushed into the offices of the Chicago Lumber Company, on the west side of the river, and announced there was a fire in Alley 28. An alarm was at once sounded, but 10 minutes later, when the first engines arrived on the spot, a half million feet of lumber were in flames. A second and third alarm were sounded, and the entire force of the Street-cleaning Department was ordered to the scene, but the inflammable nature of the material had placed the flames beyond control. To make matters worse, a scow which had been moored in the river took fire, broke her fastenings, and was swept across the stream communicating the flames to the extensive yards of George Hinckley & Co., Bigelow Brothers, Adams, Hastings & Co. Twenty steamers stationed one behind the other, on either bank poured copious streams of water upon the blazing lumber, but the water was so impregnated with grease and oil from the factories above that it fed rather that quenched the flames. The wind was blowing a hurricane, the beat was terrible, and the immense volumes of black smoke blinded and suffocated the firemen and retarded their efforts.

The fire continued to spread in a southerly direction until it covered a district of a half moon shape about one-half mile from one end to the other and a quarter of a mile deep at the centre. All this territory was ablaze, and as one pile after another collapsed and those in the rear took fire, throwing tongues of flame high in the air, the scene resembled a vomiting volcano with a vast landscape of fire stretched out beneath. The firemen, headed for a time by Mayor Harrison, worked with might and main, but they were driven back yard by yard, and in many cases so rapidly had the retreat to be made that engines and hose were left behind. Huge pieces of burning lumber were carried by the wind a distance of a half a mile to Halsted Street, and lodges on the roofs of several frame houses, all of which were gutted, Scores of families, some a mile distant, removed their household goods to the prairie, while many buried their valuables in the ground.

At 9 o’clock to-night the fire is reported as under control. Several firemen were prostrated by heat or injured by falling lumber. A partial list of the sufferers, with losses roughly estimated is as follows:
Chicago Lumber Company, 20,000,000 feet, $450,000 to $500,000; insurance, $300,000.
Bigelow Brothers, 10,000,000 feet, $100,000; insurance $125,000.
Adams, Hastings & Co., 8,000,000 feet, $100,000; insurance, $60,000.
G.W. Hinckley & Co., planing mill and lumber, $26,000; insurance, $12,000.
Five dwellings, $6,000; insured.

It is noteworthy that this is the first occasion upon which the entire Fire Department has been called out since 1874.

The New York Times, New York, NY 9 May 1885