Chicago, IL Lumber Mill Fire, May 1896

Fire In Lumbertown

Planing Mill Belonging to Edward Hines Company Destroyed.

District Is Threatened

Good Work by the Department Keeps the Flames in Check.

Chief Swenie Summons Fifteen Engines and the Fire-Boat geyser to the Scene.

For twenty minutes yesterday afternoon it looked as if the lumber district in the vicinity of Blue Island avenue and Twenty-Second Street was going to be visited by a good-sized repetition of the disastrous fire of 1894.

A few minutes before 2 o’clock a fire started from some unknown cause in the Lincoln street planing-mill belonging to the Edward Hines Lumber Company. The mill was a one-story frame structure, with an area of 150x300 feet, in the southeast corner being a brick structure used as the engine-room, 75x50 feet in size. The fire started close to the wall of the engine-room, and almost before it could be noticed had spread to a large heap of shavings near one of the machines.

With this inflammable matter to feed upon the flames rapidly grew in size, and by the time the alarm was sent in to the fire department the building was well alight. The flames spread rapidly, and when Marshall Heaney, the chief of the eighth battalion, arrived, the entire building was ablaze and the flames had sprung across a space of fifty feet wide, and were licking the sides of four cars standing on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad tracks. A 4-11 alarm was sent in, and soon fifteen engines were playing on the fire, in addition to eight streams from the fire-boat Geyser, which tied up in the slip 200 feet south of the burning building.

Good Work by the Fire-Boat.

Between the boat and the mill was a one-story frame shanty, and over this, and right into the seat of the flames, the firemen on the Geyser threw a solid stream of water three and one-half inches in diameter.

For fifteen minutes the firemen appeared to make no headway, but Chief Swenie gradually got streams of water playing on the building from all sides, and slowly the fire subsided, being under control within a little more than half an hour from the time of the first alarm.

While it burned the fire was one of the hottest the department has had to fight for many months, and at first it was feared that it would extend over the yard. Fortunately the direction of the wind, blowing from the southwest, was in favor of the men, and drove the flames in a direction in which, unless they went beyond control and leaped a distance of nearly 200 feet, the fire could not spread. The heat was such, however, that at that distance piles of lumber and sides of buildings were scorched, while on the railroad tracks the ties in many places caught alight.

Another great danger arose from the wind carrying burning brands to great distances, and while the fire was in progress a large number of firemen were kept skirmishing around armed with hand extinguishers, to avoid fires from this danger.

History of the Burned Mill.

The building in which the fire broke out, and which was totally destroyed, was very old, and was the only one that escaped during the lumber-yard fire of 1894. At that time the fire burned all the surrounding buildings and lumber piles, but by one of those vagaries often found in fires, missed the mill. It was badly scorched at the time, and had never been thoroughly repaired. In consequence the hot weather of the last few days had served to make it very inflammable, its total destruction yesterday being a matter of but a few minutes.

After the fire it was found that the walls of the brick addition had become so warped that they had to be pulled down by the firemen. In addition, the smokestack, nearly 300 feet high, is also warped, and today the building department will send a man to inspect it to see if it has to come down.

The building stands 200 feet east of Lincoln Street and 300 south of Blue Island Avenue, and is surrounded by lumber piles on three sides. West and South the yard is occupied by the Edward Hines Company, while on the east the Perley-Lowe Company have several million feet of lumber stacked. North, the True & True Company have the yard, and it was only hard work on the part of the department that prevented the flames spreading to these points.

The alarm from the lumber district, followed by the 4-11, created considerable excitement down to town, as soon as it became known, and the fire department was besieged with personal and telephone calls asking the extent of the blaze. In order that the alarm might be quieted Chief Swenie sent a message giving the scope of the fire soon after he arrived on the scene.

The fire department places the loss at $5,000, but Edward Hines, who arrived after the fire was under control, says that it will be three times that sum. The insurance on the building and contents, he said, is $19,999, scattered in carious companies. Besides the building ten planing machines and about 300,000 feet pf lumber, according to Mr. Hines, were destroyed.

The mill destroyed was recently purchased from the S.K. Martin Lumber Company, and when it was built was valued at $20,000.

The Daily Inter Ocean, Chicago, IL 14 May 1896