Cavan's Point, NJ Fire Started by Lightning, May 1883




During the progress of the thunder-storm which pased over this City and its vicinity about 5:30 o'clock yesterday morning, lightning struck one of the oil tanks at Cavan's Point, just below Coromunipaw, belonging to the National Storage Company. The tank contained a great quantity of oil belonging to the Standard Oil Company. Immediately the combustible mass burst into flames, which rolled heavenward in a roaring volume. The fire began to spread at once. The seething, burning oil boiled over the sides of the tank, and the flames leaped across to the next gread reservoir and ignited the oil in it at once. Not long afterward a third tank was ignited, and exploded with a terrible reverberation, which was heard for miles around. It was immediately seen that a great oil fire had begun, and though the employes of the establishment knew that every moment in the neighborhood was fraught with deadly peril, they at once set about doing what they could do to check the progress of the flames. In the very midst of their work they were appalled by the intelligence that six men had lost their lives in the conflagration. Still they worked on, and, assisted by several engines from Jersey City, prevented the flames from reaching more than 10 out of the 20 tanks. Nevertheless, two large warehouses, the office building, the machine shop, the pump-house, the boiler-house, carpenter's shop, and cooper's shop were destroyed, and before noon-time the place presented a broad scene of burning, smoking ruins.

Cavan's Point is situated three miles out from Jersey City, on the line of the Central Railroad of New-Jersey. It is reached by a short walk from the Claremont station, and was, until yesterday, covered wholly by the buildings and tanks of the National Storage Company and the Eagle Refinery of the Standard Oil Company. The refinery is west of the tanks and was consequently out of danger in yesterday's fire. The tanks begin at the southwesterly end of the point and run back about 150 yards. East of the tanks nearest to the water and running along the shore stood the two warehouses, each 200 by 310 feet in size. West of the tanks and running around behind them to the east are a number of tracks used for the unloading and loading of oil cars. On the west side of these tracks stood a number of small wooden buildings used for storage purposes. Along the entire water front extended a landing platform from which projected three short piers. A long trestle work carried cars but to Black Tom Island, a small piece of land in the bay on which stands a building used for storing barrels. The numbering of the tanks begins at the water's edge and runs in a general way north.

The tank which the lightning struck was No. 5, a large one standing in the middle of the point on the edge of the shore. The flames leaped across from this, and the next one seems to be burning was No. 1. The scene at this time is described as appalling. Dense volumes of black smoke rolled upward, while though it flashed great sheets of blood-red flame. These shot up to a great height with a crackling that sounded like the discharge of a volley of pistols, and a deep, continuous roar which could be heard far out over the water. Men rushed from every direction, but could do little toward checking the progress of the flames. A fireman of Engine No. 10, in Halliday-street, Jersey City, about a mile away, saw the flames when they burst from the first tank, and at once gave the alarm. The engine was immediately started for the scene and was dragged with great difficulty across the marshy land intervening. The firemen began work by trying to quench the fire with water, but soon found that their efforts were useless. The water only carried the blazing oil to sputter and crackle more. They then confined their work to saturating with water those buildings which were still safe. Engines Nos. 8 and 9 and Truck No. 5 arrived soon after No. 10 and joined in the work. They were apparently successful in their efforts until nearly 8 o'clock, when tank No. 7, containing 20,000 barrels of oil, suddenly exploded with a terrific report and a concussion that was felt for many rods around. The heavy brick walls on which the tank rested, over a foot thick, were blown in every direction, and pieces of the heavy riveted iron were carried long distances. Chief Farrier, of the Jersey City Fire Department, and a number of men were at work only a short distance from this tank when it burst, and their escape was little short of miraculous. When they had recovered from the terrible shock it was discovered that eight persons were missing. They were John Herbert, the Superintendent of the Eagle Refinery; Joseph Jenkins, George Davis, Henry Keelver, Richard Conklin, William Curry, James Herbert, son of John Herbert, and Willie Breese, his adopted son.