Chelsea, MA Fire, Apr 1908 - Big Fire in Chelsea
BIG FIRE IN CHELSEA
CHELSEA, MASS. SWEPT BY A GREAT CONFLAGRATION
MANY HAVE TO FLEE FOR LIFE
Petroleum, Tarred Paper, Old Rags and a Gale Add Fury th(sic) Disaster ----Ten Thousand Homeless.
Boston, April 13.----The greatest fire that has scourged any part of the metropolitan district in ten years devastated the manufacturing tenement and retail sections of Chelsea, burning over one square mile of territory, and leveling many of the city's best structures. The fire started at 10:40 a. m. and was not under control until 9 p. m., notwithstanding that half of the Boston fire department's strength, and steamers from a dozen other cities and towns, went to the aid of the Chelsea brigade. The loss is estimated at about $10,000,000. About 10,000 persons are homeless. So far as can be learned there were but four fatalities all unknown. Half a hundred persons were either injured or painfully burned.
Mile and a Half of Ruins.
The fire originated in the rear of the Boston Blacking company's works on West Third street, near the eastern division of the Boston and Maine Railroad and in close proximity to the Everett City line. A terrific gale from the northwest, which at times had a velocity of sixty miles an hour, carried burning shingles, embers and myriads of sparks to a score of wooden buildings, most of them of cheap wooden construction. The fire started almost in the extreme southwest section of the city, and cut a path to the end of Maverick street at the extreme southeastern end, about one and a half miles from where it began.
Thirteen Churches Feed the Fire.
Flames spread through the heart of the retail business section,
which was about midway between the two extreme limits reached by the fire. Among the structures destroyed were thirteen churches, two hospitals, the public library, city hall, five schoolhouses, twenty business blocks, nearly a score of factories, and upwards of 300 tenements and dwellinghouses. Among the places burned were: Frost hospital, Children's hospital, Fitz public library, St. Stanislaus Polish Roman Catholic Church, Chestnut Street First Baptist church, Central Unitarian church, St. Luke's Episcopal church, Elm Street Synagogue, Walnut Street Synagogue, Chelsea Presbyterian church, People's Afro-Methodist Episcopal church, Fourth Street Universalist church, Fifth Street Congregational church, Shurtieff Street Methodist Episcopal church, Second Adventist church.
INCIDENTS OF THE DISASTER
Militia Called Out---Refugees Stream Into Boston---Oil Explodes.
As soon as the magnitude of the disaster was appreciated the mayor called out the militia to guard property and keep back the crowds. The wind blew steadily forty-five miles and hour, occasionally hitting up the pace to sixty, and whole shingles, big pieces of rags, and such objects aflame were scattered far and wide. The contents of many of the buildings in the factory district were of very inflammable character, such as tarred paper, oily rags, etc.
Heaps of burning embers and a suffocating cloud of dust hurled down across Everett avenue by the gale, coupled with the intense heat, drove the firemen from their posts and those families nearest the start of the conflagration had only time to rush from their homes and save their lives, losing all their possessions. Spectacular features were the burning of the spires of churches. All the money men possessed was offered teamsters to cart away household goods, but there were few teams to be had.
Over Chelsea bridge into East Boston steamed a long line of fire refugees, lugging what few household effects they were able to save. Pushcarts, drays and even baby carriages were piled high with furniture and bedding. Hundreds of persons carried huge bundles tied up in sheets. Those were mostly grayheaded women of the foreign class. One old woman staggered under a large bundle of clothes and bedding in the midst of which could be seen the wondering face of a baby too frightened to cry.
So rapid was the progress of the flames that people one moment were congratulating themselves on being out of danger, and the next moment were hurrying away from very imminent peril. Suddenly there was a [line ineligible].... of the Tidewater Oil company on the waterfront burst into flames. Thousands of gallons of oil were soon burning and gigantic clouds of black smoke curled and rose into the sky, making dark as night all the east end. The fire was finally stopped by Chelsea creek.
The Iowa City Citizen, Iowa City, IA 13 Apr 1908
Transcribed by Linda Horton. Thank you, Linda!