Troy, NY Clothing Factory Fire, Feb 1896
It is believed by everybody, even the proprietors and employes in the shops that about twenty girls were overcome before they reached the street and were burned up in the building.
People who are familiar with the interior of the building and know how limited were the means of escape, place the total lost at least thirty.
The scene of the catastrophe was at the corner of Broadway and River Street, a portion of the city characterized for its immense business buildings. The structure is known as the Burdette building, is six stories in height and was occupied by J. Stetheimer & Company, manufacturer of ladies shirt waists, whose factory was situated on the fifth floor; Van Zandt & Jacobs, manufacturers of collars and cuffs, who occupied the three floors below, and a restaurant, and saloon on the ground floor. There were also several other minor enterprises carried on in the building.
The fire, which ended so disastrously, started in the fifth story, in the part occupied by Stetheimer & Company.
About 5:25 o'clock this afternoon a little boy attempted to light the gas in what is known as the cutting department. This is where the goods of which the shirt waists are cut are kept. He climbed up on the cutting table and lighted the gas. Then he threw the match, which was still burning, to the floor, and it ignited a pile of scrap fabric. In an instant there was a crackling of fierce and uncontrollable flames and the room was filled with smoke.
MISS LILLIE KREIGER, a girl, realized the imminence of the peril, and at the risk of her own life, rushed through the different departments of the building and warned the employes of the danger. Nothing but the bravery of a volunteer fireman saved her from death.
When the employes in the fifth story realized that the fire was beyond control and was likely to prove disastrous, a scene of great panic immediately ensued. The girls rushed about the room, some of them found their way down the stairway, others succumbed to the dense smoke and sank to the floor and some jumped from the dizzy height of the RIver Street windows to the pavements below. About half of the girls who were employed on the top floor thought of the fire escape and found their way to the ground in safety.
For twenty minutes after the fire started the scene was the most exciting ever witnessed in Troy.
During this time there was a continuous panic and in the rush for a place of safety many were injured. The crush on the stairway was something frightful.
About 200 men and women attempted to make their escape by this exit at the same time. Many were trampled underfoot; the ones who were in front were knocked from their feet and thrown to the landings, and some are said to have been left unconscious on the stairway.
The majority of the employes finally reached the street, but they were so overcome by excitement that it was impossible to learn from them how many had been left in the building. Quite a number found their way out by means of the fire escapes.
The scene was a most exciting one. The girls fairly threw themselves down the ladders to reach the ground quickly, and the firemen had their hands full in carrying the girls down the ladders from the terminus of the escape.
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