Halifax, NS Fire Destroys Poor Asylum Building, Nov 1882

Ruins Of Fire


Halifax, N. S., Nov. 8. -- About twelve o'clock last night while all the hands were sleeping, fire broke out in the bake house, in the basement of the immense poor asylum building. Exactly how it originated is not very clear, but the smoke of the smouldering wood spread through the building and caused the utmost terror amount the four or five thousand inmates of the institution. There was no immediate danger, so the officials of the asylum did not take steps to remove the inmates. An alarm was sounded, and the stroke of the bell had scarcely commenced, when the reels were run out of the engine houses, as one or two men happened to be about. In the west wing the old women and children were seen at the windows crying to be let out. A sturdy axeman dashed at the door leading from this wing into the yard, and knocked it in. The stairways were crowded and out came the procession of women, nursing infants, old gray headed grandmas and feeble old men. Then it bacame known that they in the upper wards of that wing were helpless. Some of the firemen, and afterwards others who were among the early arrivals, hastened up and with willing hands were soon getting the blind, halt and lame down the winding stairs. In the meantime the flames in the basement which the superintendent, engineer and officials were trying to keep under, spread to the base of the long air shaft, or elevator, reaching to the top of the main building. The draft here swept the flames upwards with tremendous force, and in a few seconds the heaviest part of the conflagration was in the top of the main building. The story just under the caves in this building was used as a hospital, and in it were about seventy patients all perfectly helpless; the fire was now fiercely burning right in the hospital and above it the heat was so intense, the lead pourd down the roof in streams of brilliant fire, and the slate flew everywhere in deadly shower, rendering any near approach to the building almost certain death. Notwithstanding this, there were hundreds standing outside who would willingly have entered the building if they could have found their way through the place. Indeed, several did go in, without guidance, but could do nothing in the immense building, and had to return. An attempt was made to raise the ladders to the windows, but the ladders were too short and after a fireman was knocked down by falling brick, and it was seen the ladders would be swept away in a few minutes, the attempt ceased. The fire burned through the roof and the scene was one never to be forgotten. Far above the roar of the flames and the crack of bursting slates, were heard the cries of the wretched patients in the hospital, who were roasting to death. Most of them could not leave their beds, and were, perhaps, stifled by the smoke before the cruel flames reached them, but others were seen to dash themselves against the windows and cling to the sash till their strength was exhausted or their hands burned off and they fell back into the seething caldron of flames. A woman was seen to drag herself to the corner of the window and forcing her body half out till she could breathe cool air, remained in that position until her head burned off. It is known there were over seventy patients in the hospital, and as far as could be ascertained only six were carried out before the flames cut off all further approach to the place. A medical man, who is in a position to know, estimated the loss not less than fifty, and these all patients in the hospital. The poor old people and little children rescued from other parts of the building were huddled together in a barn some little distance away, and where they were packed around with straw and blankets to keep them comfortable till morning. The building is still burning fiercely, and there is no doubt it will be totally destroyed. It is insured.

The Bismarck Tribune North Dakota 1882-11-10