Nashua, NH Fire, May 1930


$2,000,000 Estimated Loss as Fire Sweeps Southeast Part of City--Wind Keeps Conflagration From Business Area--Priests Heroes, Saving 600 Children

Nashua, N. H., May 4.--(AP)--More than 500 persons lost their homes in a conflagration which destroyed the southeastern section of Nashua this afternoon with a loss estimated by Fire Chief James E. Smith at $2,000,000. In addition to 125 houses, two churches and four large industrial plants were laid in ruins. Several smaller business establishments also were caught in the flames. A 40 mile-an-hour northwest gale spread the flames like a fan from the starting point, a Boston & Maine railroad wooden bridge which spans the Nashua river.

Business Section Spared.

The wind took the fire away from the principal business section, but all the thickly settled Crown Hill residential district fell a prey instead.

So fast did the fire spread that many of those who lost their homes lost also their personal belongings. There were several narrow escapes, but no human casualty except that five men were overcome by smoke.

Eleven Priests Are Heroes.

Father Isadore Janells and Father Ullsade Simoneau of the church and convent school of the Infant Jesus (French Roman Catholic) were heroes as the flames came licking toward the church. Six hundred children were sitting in the parochial hall watching a play, when someone came to the door and cried, "Fire!" Father Simoneau calmed the youngsters and led them all out safely. Ten minutes later the hall was a mass of fire. As the church also caught fire, Father Janelle ran in and out, carrying the sacred vessels. 'Then he collapsed from heart failure and was taken to St. Joseph's hospital, where he was expected to recover.

The wind blew the flames away from the business section, but they licked through the closely settled residential section at such a rate that in two hours approximately a square mile had been burned over. In one house on Harbor avenue the family succeeded in moving most of the furniture out on the street after the flames caught the roof, only to see the fire make a bonfire of chairs and sofas on the pavement.

Co. E of the National guard was called out to aid police and firemen, who were called from Manchester, Lowell and Lawrence, Mass., and several other places.

Starting in a wooden bridge across the Nashua river, the fire spread to the Nashua Building company lumber plant and from there to the thickly settled residential section.

Removing Furniture Futile

The flames swept with such rapidly through the houses that piles of furniture carried into the street became lines of bonfires between smoking ruins and still standing chimneys.

Spreading out in a fanlike shape from the bridge where the trouble started, the fire finally reached the extreme edge of the city and jumped into a glue grove, beyond which stood the Nashua County clubhouse.

There were almost about 600 houses in the fire area, but exactly how many of these were destroyed was not for some time definitely known.

Among the other plants scattered through the area which were burned were Proctor Brothers, a lumber concern; the White Mountain Freezer company factory, and the American Box and Lumber company, where the flames ate into hundreds of thousands of feet of lumber. It was the largest in the south end of the city.

Mayor Sullivan was out directing the firefighters from the time of the general alarm and volunteer citizens aided police in keeping away the thousands from the fire area or helped firemen with their hose.

While an unconfirmed rumor circulated that three women had been burned to death, Mayor Sullivan called together at city hall a meeting of the city's business men to make plans for the care of the homeless. One thousand cots were immediately ordered from Concord.

The first still burned at that time in different parts of the section, but there was little but ruins left to burn. A fierce wood and brush fire engaged firemen near the Country club, which was threatened. Elsewhere the spread of the flames had apparently been checked, although it was not called under control.

Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA 5 May 1930

Losing Fight Described By Observer in Airplane

Boston, May 4.--(AP)--A mile-long fan-shaped area of smouldering ruins and burning houses, factories and lumber yards, from which roaring flames and an ugly cloud of smoke rose skyward into a stiff wind was the picture seen in an airplane flight over the Nashua (N. H.) fire late today.

Industrial buildings in the stricken area were huge boxes of flames, homes were literally crumbling into ashes and, in lumber yards, pile after pile of lumber burned as rapidly as the wind could carry the flames to them.

In the few open lots and fields in this area of destruction, like dots on a map, could be seen scores of persons huddled together in groups. Beside them their household belongings, hastily removed from homes that had been or were to be devoured by the devasting{sic} flames.

Firemen in Losing Battle

Streams of water played on the burning buildings by firemen appeared like so much mockery to the air observer. The firemen seemed hopelessly outfought, their only hope of sucess lying in the exhaustion of fuel for the flames.

From the Boston & Maine railroad bridge, where the fire started, the path of destruction was comparatively narrow for a distance of about a quarter of a mile. It then spread out until at its farthest end, the southeast outskirts of the city, it was fully as wide as it was long. As if determined to have prey, even when buildings were no longer remained to be devoured, the flames jumped the Nashua river in this section and soon were racing through a grove of pine trees.

The flames traveled a queer course. Hopping and skipping like a giant checker player, they leaped from one burning house to another, leaving other untouched in the midst of smouldering heaps of ashes.

Flames Seen From Lowell

From the sky the flames made a vivid picture as the airplane approached the city. The smoke cloud was visible a few minutes after the plane left the Boston airport. As the city drew nearer, pillars of smoke rose above the horizon, silhouetted{sic} against the outline of the White mountains of New Hampshire in the background.

Smudges showed against the sky from countless forest and brush fires.

From Lowell, 15 miles away, the flames could be seen, shooting high from piles of burning lumber.

As the plane swung to the northeast of the city to avoid the pall of smoke, the ruins of the railroad bridge where the fire started came into view, a lone pier standing gauntly in midstream.

Back toward the fire area, the scene was one of gray and black-gray ashes and charred ruins of spurting red and yellow splashes of flame. The lumber yards were a dotted gridiron of flickering, evenly places, piles of ashes. Houses were still burning and trees on the opposite side of the river, far from the point where the fire started, were blazing.

Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA 5 May 1930