March 3, 1927
Loss of Valuable Records Feared
Nine Departments Made Homeless By Afternoon Blaze
Road And Public Service Compensation Commissions Hardest Hit - Attorney General's Office Also
Practically Destroyed in Adjoining Building - Origin of Fire Is Still Unknown
Fire Starts In Top Floor And Spreads Throughout Structure
Loss of Valuable Records Feared
Nine Departments Made Homeless By Afternoon Blaze
Road And Public Service Compensation Commissions Hardest Hit - Attorney General's Office Also Practically Destroyed in Adjoining Building - Origin of Fire Is Still Unknown
Fire Starts In Top Floor And Spreads Throughout Structure
Fire of uncertain origin, spreading almost instantaneously through a wooden frame structure a block long, destroyed two buildings housing branches of the state government within half an hour yesterday afternoon.
Loss on the buildings, and their contents, which probably exceeded the $155,000 insurance carried on them by the state, was small in the eyes of state officials compared with the destruction of records of the state road commission, public service commission and attorney-general's office, as well as half a dozen smaller offices.
The fire destroyed the wooden temporary capitol, which served for several years as seat of the principal state offices, and since these offices were moved to the new capitol had housed the state road commission and some of the others. It also wiped out the interior of the adjacent brick building occupied by the attorney-general's office. The larger building, beside the state road commission also housed the public service commission, the bureau of labor, the federal state employment bureau, the state board of children's guardians, the state veteran service officer and state headquarters of the American legion, the bureau of negro welfare, and the West Virginia officers of the United States bureau of public roads and of the first division engineer for the state road commission.
Such check as was possible in the crowds that gathered to watch the fire indicated that everybody had escaped from both buildings, though the flames spread so quickly that girls left purses and wraps behind in their flight, men's hats and overcoats were abandoned, and a few of the state employees on the second floor finding escape through the halls cut off, resorted to ladders of a telephone crew working in the neighborhood.
The fire started somewhere on the second story or in the roof? of the building, but early tonight there was no certain information as to its cause, and many of the occupants of the second floor said it appeared in offices so quickly it seemed to have started everywhere at once. C. R. Morgan, a Charleston insurance agent, was in the central portion of the second floor where the fire appeared to have begun. He passed down a corridor there without seeing any sign of trouble and less than a minute later on his return found the corridor full of smoke. The alarm was given and in less than half an hour only a mass? of fire levelled to the ground marked the site of the building. Tonight a few timbers and clapboards from the southwestern corner were the only traces of the building except for a brick vault and the burning embers and twisted metal furnishings.
Three houses near the western end, in Summers street, caught fire but were saved by the fire department. Six automobiles parked across from the building, however, were destroyed before they could be moved.
The temporary capitol was built in 1921 on state land on Capitol street across from the site of the old capitol which was destroyed by fire in that year. Building and equipment cost the state about $225,000 the amount appropriated by the legislature, but much of that equipment was removed when the principal state officers transferred their quarters to the first wing of the new capitol in the eastern end of the city. Insurance on the building amounted to $50,000 and the contents were insured for 75,000, it was said at the offices of the board of control. The other building was a remodelled residence, formerly used by the board of control but for nearly two years the headquarters of the attorney general's office. It was insured for $10,000 and its contents for $20,000. The temporary building, often referred to as the "pasteboard" capitol, was hastily erected with a wooden framework, clapboard walls and shingled roof, and interior partitions of some composition wallboard. It had always been regarded by state officers as in danger of fire and at various times they had made special regulations about smoking in the building to reduce the danger.
Power wires extending along two sides of the building for its full length and width fell under the heat and flames, endangering the hundreds watching the blaze, and turning off the current to reduce this danger deprived the Charleston newspapers and many business houses of light and power during the afternoon.
A meeting of the board of public works, comprised of the elective officers of the state government, was called by Governor Gore tonight to be held tomorrow morning for considering plans to house the departments whose offices burned. Members of the state road commission spent the hours after the fire looking for possible locations for their offices with the hope that work of the commission might be resumed in part in the morning.
Investigations in the ruins tonight indicated that some records had been saved from the general loss, though how many was still in question. A vault used by the road commission appeared to have protected its contents partly although its door was not fully closed. Several of the state official and employees put valuable papers into safes or steel cabinets before they fled and it was hoped that some of these had been saved.
James J. Divine, public service commissioner, endangered his safety in saving records. Stopping in his office on the second floor to put some papers into a cabinet and to snatch up the documents in the Cumberland Allegheny Gas company case before the commission, he found himself blinded by smoke in the corridors. Some "large man" helped him as he stumbled through the hallway he said.
James Imboden, chief engineer of the commission, and Boyd Cain, one of the commission's shorthand reporters tried to fight the blaze in the second floor ceiling with a hose line in the building until driven out by falling embers. Mr. Imboden was forced to jump from his window in the second floor and fell on his face, but was not severely injured.
Miss Delsie May Clinton and Mrs. Mary K. Hall, employe[e]s of the road commission were working alone in a second floor office at the rear of one of the wings and found themselves trapped. Miss Clinton jumped from the window and aided telephone repairmen working in the vicinity who raised a ladder to the window for Mrs. Hall. Several other occupants of second story offices made their escape by ladders put up by the telephone men before the fire [a]pparatus could reach the scene.
State and city police stood guard around a line about the ruins tonight to protect any valuables or documents that might be salvaged from the cabinets and safes. A few embers still smouldered but the hot fire which razed the building in minutes was practically out before dark.
Members of the senate sub-committee which finished its road investigation this morning had accepted the commissioner's invitation to inspect the offices in the afternoon. With the three commissioners they had been through the first floor offices but had not visited the engineering department on the second floor before the alarms of fire.
Contents of Buildings, and Structures Themselves, Covered by Insurance, It Is Reported.
Most Important of Records in Safes
Fear Expressed That Head May Have Charred Documents to Point Which May Kill
Contents of Buildings, and Structures Themselves, Covered by Insurance, It Is Reported.
Most Important of Records in Safes
Fear Expressed That Head May Have Charred Documents to Point Which May Kill Use.
The state carried $75,000 insurance on the contents of the temporary building, and $20,000 on the contents of the building in which the attorney used.
Wehrle Geary, owner of the two buildings, is reported to have had a $60,000 insurance policy on the main building.
The principal loss in the fire was the destruction of public service commission and the state road commission records. Papers frequently used were kept in ordinary filing cases, while others of more importance were kept in safes.
Both the filing case and the safes are supposed to be fire proof, and probably are in a way, but experience in the capitol fire six years ago, proved that they were not proof against heat. Then the records were charred, some beyond decipheration, and it will be not surprise if such is the case in this fire.
I, Wade Coffman, member of the public service commission, expressed the belief that some of the records of the commission, at least the more important ones, could be copied when they are rescued from the ruins of the building. The fire department as soon as possible played water on filing cases and safes as they lay in piles among the ruins where they had fallen when the floors gave way. This probably wet the records but it is believed to have checked the ravages of the heat.
As soon as smouldering embers have been extinguished the work of salvaging the filing cases and safes will begin.
Employees as they fled from the burning building gathered up arms full of papers, grabbing those nearest at hand without regard to their importance. Many of the employees in their zeal to save state records lost coats and hats. Others of the employees, mostly men, after leaving the building went back into the blazing structure to see that all of the women were out and to close and lock safes and filing cases. May of these people were trapped and were forced to leap out of the windows on the first floor as well as the second.
Typewriters, adding machines, and such pieces of equipment were carried out. Some of these were dropped at what was then considered a safe distance from the building, but later were found to be damaged by heat and water and the carelessness of the enormous crowd that gathered. These pieces equipment along with others not damaged were hauled to the capitol annex and there stored.
Just where in the building the fire started is a matter of dispute, although many agree that flames were first discovered on the second floor in the main hall running from the Capitol street to Summers street entrances, nearer to the Summers street entrances, nearer to the Summers street end of the building than to Capitol street. The flame swept both ways along the hall way, and efforts to stop it with the fire hose, hanging in racks at various places in the building were fruitless.
Within ten minutes after the time the blaze was discovered in the "shoe box" it had swept over the entire upper story. The temporary capitol, also known as the "paste-board" building, was erected six years ago to house state departments after the old capitol burned. It was built of weather boarding and some kind of a composition like beaver board, held together by an ordinary timber frame. The arrangements of hall ways and windows created an ideal draft for the carrying and fanning of the flames by the high winds.
The speed with which the flames swept over the buildings is illustrated by the fact that many of the two hundred odd employees in the building had to flee through windows without taking time to bring out their coats and hats. The clothes of some were scorched by heating or flying embers before they got out of the building.
As has been explained above, two hallways, one on each of the two floors, run the full length of the building. About every thirty feet on both floors these hallways are bisected by hallways running off to right and left, and giving entrance into offices in the various wings of the building. To gain exit from the offices in the wings one must walk down the bisecting hallways and into the main hallways. If one is on the second floor one may descend to the first floor by three or four stairways along the main hallways.
Thus when the fire broke out it was drawn by the draft into the main hallway on the second floor. The fire originated, it is believed considerably nearer to the Summers street end of the building than to the Capitol street front, but the wind fanned it toward Capitol street, so that it broke out of the building there at about the same time it did at the Summers street end. This gave rise to a story that there were two fires blazing in the building at the same time.
As the flames swept along the main corridor on the upper floor, they cut off egress from the bisecting hallways, thus forcing inmates, who had delayed the least bit after the alarm was sounded, to escape by the windows at the dead end of these bisecting hallways.
Some of those who did flee into the main hallway to go down the stairways had to rush through tongues of flame licking around the corners where the main and bisecting hallways joined.
Apparently every one escaped, although there was much hurrying and scurrying before this was determined. Excited groups of men and women, just from the building, gathered with many inquiries such as "Have you seen Virginia, Mary, Betty, Sally, Jane, Bill, Tom, Jack, Jim, Mr. So and So, Mrs. or Miss Such-and-Such?" And the replies were "Yes, I've seen him or her, or So-and-So told me he or she saw them, or I'll go look them up." In this manner about every one had been found within a short time after the exodus from the building.
Relatives of persons employed in the building, attracted by the billows of smoke that ascended from the burning structure or by the general alarm that spread over the city, appeared breathless and worried, inquiring excitedly as to the welfare of their kin.
Fully 10,000 people watched the fire. The street and sidewalks of Capitol street from State and Lee to far out beyond the burning building were filled with people. The crowd over-flowed onto the vacant lots around the New Diamond building, the Y. M. C. A. lawn and the lot on which the old executive mansion stood. Street cars, stopped first by the lines of fire hose across the tracks filled Capital street from Lee back to Virginia, and later were held there when the electric power was cut off because the fire had short circuited the wires.
Motor traffic filled up the street, despite the frantic efforts of city police, state police and men wearing uniforms of the New York Central railway police. Their shouted commands and shrieking whistles were ignored by drivers and pedestrians determined to get within a good view of the fire. Warnings that the electric wires and the poles on which they were strung might fall were disregarded, except in section of the crowd, which would try to move back only to be halted by persons attracted by the movement. Women ploughed through the crowd with children in tow, and at the risk of being trampled. People splashed and slipped through the mud of the vacant lots. Spray from leaking or disjointed fire hose wetted the crowd.
Women screamed as white flames shot popping from the joints in the short circuit electric wires and as gasoline tanks exploded on automobiles that had been parked by the building and caught fire from it. Others were pushed to safety. Fire hose also was burned. Poles carrying telephone and power lines were charred, and the crowd caught its breath when linesmen climbed up to cut the wires free. As a wire fell the crowd would surge backward, then forward again to stay there until another wire fell.
The firemen confined their efforts to keeping the fire from spreading to adjoining buildings, and were successful except for the brick building, adjoining the temporary copitol [sic], in which the offices of the attorney general were housed. This building was gutted, and even a part of the south wall fell. Luther Wolpe, assistant attorney general, said records were left in the building. Only the south-west corner of the temporary building, a part of one room of the suite of offices of State Labor Commissioner Howard S. Jarrett was left standing, and the walls of this room fell against each other, making a sort of a wigwam. Gordon Blizzard, assistant to the labor commissioner, said all of the records of the labor office were lost.
When the blaze died down it revealed a square brick tower still standing and radiators, pipes, filing cases, metal desks, typewriters, stamping machines, etc., laying around in heaps. The firemen turned the hoses on the smouldering pile and the water forced up dead embers and a dense cloud of smoke which drove the crowd back, and many spectators left. Smoke in the eyes was more serious than risks of injury run earlier, and the entertainment was about over anyway.
Great was the rage of school children who were held at their books until the fire was nearly burned out. They arrived in droves, but there was little left for them to see.
Between thrills the crowd recalled the capitol fire of six years ago, speculated on the cause of this one, and wondered if Charleston ever would get a capitol building.
In addition to the offices of the road commission and the public service commission, the building also contained the offices of the state labor commissioner, the state board of children's guardians, the state direcctor of bureau welfare, the West Virginia department of the American Legion and the state service officer for disabled veterans. All records of these two latter organizations were lost. R. G. Merrick, legion adjutant, did rescue a number of checks. C. M. Jones, service officer, arrived in Charleston during the fire.
Mr. Merrick also lost his hat, overcoat and suit coat. He will reopen his office in the Red Cross building in a day or two, and will begin trying to duplicate the lost records.
Dead Plug Delays Firemen; Heat Sets Afire; Pump Goes Out of Commission; Department Chief Is
Dead Plug Delays Firemen; Heat Sets Afire; Pump Goes Out of Commission; Department Chief Is Burned.
A dead fire plug delayed two companies of the local fire department about ten minutes and added to the general confusion when the temporary capitol burned on yesterday. The plug was located at the corner of Capitol and Washington street and the fire department, according to Chief Louis McLane had not been notified that it was out of commission. Two lines of hose were thrown out from the dead plug before it was discovered that there was no water. Both lines had to be taken up and shifted to Capitol and Lee streets before being put into play. Chief McLane was seriously burned on his left hand and neck when he attempted to make a running dash up New Washington street past the burning building to reach the two fire companies that had connected with the dead fire plug. The chief was caught half way between Capitol and Summers street, but kept on until he reached the southeast corner of the building and gave orders to the two companies temporarily out of commission. Later he went to the offices of the city health department for medical attention.
Chief of Police John Britton went out with the second fire call and immediately gave orders that all electric power in the business section of the city be cut off. Prior to this order, high tension wires were falling in every direction and sparkling dangerously on the wet pavements. Chief Britton had two complete shifts of police patrolmen on the scene, a total of about 25 men, to handle the crowd. A number of other officers were stationed at street intersections nearby to divert automobile traffic.
An attempt by employees working in the capitol building to extinguish the flames was futile. About six men working in a second floor office heard the cry of fire and rushed out to find the hallway in flames. They grabbed every available fire extinguisher and also took down the line of emergency fire hose with which to fight the blaze. After about two minutes, they were driven back by the smoke and gave up their hopeless fight. By this time the stairs were in flames, and the men jumped to safety from the windows.
The entire fire fighting apparatus in the city was called out in answer to the alarm and six companies were held on the scene to fight the flames. One company was sent back to the central station to give protection to the rest of the city. Eight streams of water were constantly in play. One line of hose that had been thrown along new Washington street was destroyed by the blaze.
Chief McLane said last night that the fire was the hottest one he had ever seen. At one time the Y. M. C. A. building more than 100 feet away caught on fire, but was quickly extinguished by the firemen. Windows in the new Diamond building on the opposite side of Capitol street and about 250 feet from the fire were cracked by the heat. The former state board of control building was gutted by the flames.
One of the largest engine pumpers of the fire department went out of commission a few minutes after it had been put in use at the corner of Summers and Washington streets. After the heat became so intense that it threatened the fire truck, volunteers were called upon to push it out of the way.
Six automobiles trapped on the opposite side of New Washington street went up in flames. Included in the number was a brand new Chrysler roadster bearing license number 61,403, a Ford touring car owned by J. A. West, 1514 Madison street, and a Hupmobile car owned by R. O. Cummings of 408 Court street. The other machines were a Ford truck bearing license number H1,968, a Ford touring car with license number 63,482, and a Chevrolet coupe with Ohio license number 51,614. After the flames had subsided, the owner of one of the Ford cars started it up and drove up Washington street with the back seat still on fire.
About fifty automobiles parked along new Washington street and Capitol street were saved by volunteer workers who responded to a call for help from Chief McLane. The chief said that all of the machines could have been saved if a few more pedestrians had been willing to brave the heat.
A two-story board house at 326 Summers street suffered considerable damage from the flames when the fire licked across a 10-foot alley and caught the second floor. Quick work on the part of the fire department soon had the home under control and it was extinguished a short time later. A good portion of the furniture had already been removed. Other houses along Capitol street were threatened by the flames and the furniture had been moved into the street almost by the time that the department arrived. None of these houses, however, took fire.
The brick building used formerly to house the board of control although almost a total loss in itself, saved several other homes just beyond from being destroyed. This building acted as a shield for the frame structures further out Capitol street and prevented a general spread of the conflagration.
So fast did the blaze spread over the frame structure that persons working in the offices on the first floor barely escaped serious injury or possible death from the falling ceilings and walls.
R. L. Haddox, who was working in the office of the license bureau, on the first floor, in the center of the building, said he heard a sudden rush and rumble overhead.
"I though something was wrong," said Haddox, "and I looked out of the window. Flames were shooting out of the windows of the office just over me. Just then Mr. Hiner appeared in the door of our office and shouted, 'Save what you can and run for your lives. I snatched as many important papers and refund books as I could. And as I got out of the door, I turned to see the ceiling crash to the floor. When I reached the sidewalk, the whole building from one end to the other was ablaze."
A woman employee of the state board of children's guardians, who refused to give her name, and whose office is located on the second floor of the building, said she heard someone shout, "Fire!"
"I looked out of the doors, across the hall, and saw flames shooting out of the room, used by the janitors," this woman said. "I barely managed to snatch my coat, but I didn't have time to get my purse, which was in a desk drawer. When I ran into the hall, I saw a couple of young men, whom I recognized as working in some of the other departments, dragging hose from the racks, but no water was coming from the nozzle. I didn't stop to see whether any would come either."
Another state employee who gave a "ringside" description of the fire, was Ezra Morrisson, who works in the printing department of the state road commission, in the rear wing of the building.
"I was busy working a memeograph machine when a janitor - at least, I believe it was, yelled 'Fire' I put on my hat and coat and went out into the hall. There was a mob of the upstairs employe[e]s dashing through the hall, which was not then filled with smoke. There sure was plenty of excitement, but no one seemed to have any trouble getting out through the doors into the street."
Evelyn O'Keefe, who works in one of the offices of the license bureau, had a narrow escape from death because she treated the shout of "Fire" by one of the office jokers, as the proverbial shepherd treated the cry of "Wolf!"
"Russell King shouted 'Fire!' I thought he was joking. But two women in the same office made a dash for the door, while I continued to work. Soon, I smelled smoke. I put on my hat and coat and left the building, which seemed to me, to be ablaze at both ends."
Miss O'Keefe incidentally lost a new dress, which she had bought during her lunch hour.
To add a touch of pathos to the conflagration, was the destruction of a small, six-room, frame house at 326 Summers street. It was once part of the old barracks of the state police, and was inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. James Cullens, a young son, Miss Susie Russell, the sister of Mrs. Cullens, and Miss Russell's mother. Miss Russell, who recently suffered a broken leg, was forced to get out of bed, and hobble out with the aid of a crutch.
At first, firemen did not expect the Cullens' home to catch fire, and they moved typewriters and other office equipment from the attorney general's building, almost adjoining, into the home of Mr. Cullens. Within a short time, however, the embers from the burning building, occupied by the attorney general, set the wooden roof of the small frame afire. Firemen managed to get but few pieces of furniture from this building.
The Cullens and Miss Russell, for a time, were forced to sit on neighboring porches, until Captain Thomas of the Salvation Army, heard of their predicament and went about the task of finding lodgings for them.
The home of Mrs. J. W. Littlepage at 405 Capitol street, next door to the attorney general's building, was endangered for a time and it was necessary for firemen and friends of Mrs. Littlepage, who has been ill in bed, to remove her across the street, to the Scottish Rite building. Friends of Mrs. Littlepage, fearing the blaze would spread to her home, packed her clothes and other valuables into bundles and placed them on the porch. However, when the firemen extinguished the worst of the blaze in the attorney general's building, Mrs. Littlepage was brought back.
Fate played many other pranks at the fire. For example, Joe Hedricks, who lives near Levi, drove his Ford truck into Charleston yesterday afternoon for the express purpose of buying some automobile equipment, such as new tubes and a tire. He parked the truck on the Washington street side of the "pasteboard" capitol and left to do his shopping. When he returned, he found a charred and warped mass. For more than an hour, Mr. Hedricks, with sad countenance, attempted to make his car give even so much as a few groans, but finally he desisted, saying philosophically, "You can't make a skeleton walk."
It wasn't very long after the start of the fire that the Salvation Army functioned. Captain and Mrs. Thomas and Miss Envoy Cameron, officers of Corps 1 and 2 of the Army, arrived at the scene with several pails of coffee and boxes filled with frankfurters, neatly encased in long "dog" rolls, and covered with slaw. They circled the scene of the blaze several times, distributing the hot brew and "hot dogs" to the firemen and volunteers, many of whom fought the blaze with no other protection than their street clothes.
The policemen also had their hands full. They had to keep several inspired youths from exploring amid the smoldering embers. One officer intercepted a boy of about 12 years of age, with his arms loaded with heavy books and paper. "well, all I wanted it for was for scrap paper," he sobbed, as the officer playfully threatened to spank him with his club.
While a policeman had his back turned on Washington street, a youngster decided to find out "if there was any gas in the tanks" of the destroyed automobiles. His first inspection was on the Chevrolet coach. He took a burning stick and pushed it into the gasoline tank of the machine. The result was a loud explosion. Fortunately, the only injuries received by the youth, was an "ear-warming" from a bluecoat.
Another youngster made the sad mistake of approaching too close to the blaze and his coat was set ablaze. He ran screaming to firemen who were at that time attempting to connect a hose. They turned a nozzleless hose on his burning coat. Someone, however, turned the water on full force, and the boy was driven fully 20 feet on the end of the stream.
Withstanding the flames and water was a brick-enclosed vault, rearing itself two stories, in the center of the burning mass. When the fire had been sufficiently extinguished, an exploration party, consisting of reporters, policemen and state trooper visited the first floor of this vault. Little of value was found there and the only money visible was a one dollar bill, which reposed, undisturbed in a basket. This vault also held motor license receipt books, which were intact.
On the Summers and Washington streets corner of the destroyed building, was a large safe, its doors open. The compartments of the safe were shut, but not locked and contained undestroyed blue prints of road plans. Nearby, hundreds, and it seemed thousands, of similar blue prints were strewn amid the ruins.
After the fire in the attorney general's building was quenched, employe[e]s of this department entered the ruins and managed to salvage a few records. Law books in many of the offices in the second floor of this building were ruined, either by flames or water. On the first floor, the greatest damage appeared to have been the result of smoke and water. The water on the first floor was almost six inches deep.
State offices and departments housed in the temporary capitol building were:
State road commission, including the headquarters of division No. 1, the automobile division and the general engineering division.
State board of children's guardians.
Public service commission.
State bureau of negro welfare and statistics.
State department of labor.
Federal-state employment service.
The attorney general's office was located in the two-story brick building adjoining the temporary capitol. That structure was completely gutted.
State Senate Inquiry of Commission Before Blaze Destroys Records of
State Senate Inquiry of Commission Before Blaze Destroys Records of Department.
The senate road investigating committee completed its hearings yesterday after making an inspection of the offices of the state road commission which were later destroyed by fire.
The committee had just finished an inspection of the machinery in the automobile department, admiring its efficiency, when the cry of fire was heard in the corridors.
During the day's hearings, the committee was given a detailed report of the automobile division, Commissioner Hiner testifying as to the progress made by machinery in the issuance of license tags. He also said that the state could have made license plates for Virginia, Tennessee and other states, but the attorney general had ruled this was not permissable under the law.
Inability of Officials to Close Vault in Road Commission Office May Prove Costly; Cursory Inspection
Indicates Records Are Destroyed
Inability of Officials to Close Vault in Road Commission Office May Prove Costly; Cursory Inspection Indicates Records Are Destroyed
What problems of "reconstruction" the road and public service commissions will face cannot be determined until it is learned which of their records escaped the fire. A cursory inspection of the ruins of the building last night indicated that most of the records were destroyed.
The big vault in which many of the important records of the road commission were kept was open yesterday, and as the fire started near it, efforts to reach it and close the doors were frustrated by the flames. Records of the four road division offices outside Charleston can be duplicated, as copies are on file in each office. However the records of Division No. 1, whose offices were in the temporary capitol, suffered the same fate as the other papers.
Certificates of title, operating and driving permits were destroyed, it is believed. But as the holders of these papers, have or should have their copies, these can be replaced.
Estimates on road contracts, and the contracts themselves were kept in a vault on the lower floor of the building, and it is believed they escaped the fire.
The road and public service commissioners last night said they were in no position to predict what difficulties they would encounter in resuming the conduct of the affairs of the commissions, but that they knew from experience in the fire of six years ago, that they were going to have a hard row to hoe.
The brick vault of the road commission, located on the first floor, was in good condition, it was revealed after the fire.
The door of the vault stood open yet the records stored in the room were intact except for their water-soaked condition.
Earl Walker, an employee of the automobile department, was placing a basket of currency, money orders and checks in the vault when the cry of fire sounded. He placed the basket on a shelf and made an effort to close and lock the vault door. The bolts in the door were turned, however, and it could not be snapped shut.
As soon as the heat from the flames subsided, Walker, accompanied by a state trooper, investigated the interior of the vault and found the basket of money, etc., unharmed.
Fire Chief Louis McLane last night issued a few words of praise and thanks to the Salvation Army for the "splendid services which they rendered the department at the temporary capitol fire."
"They were right on the job," said the chief, "with their hot coffee and 'dogs' and I want to publicly thank them for it."
The state road commission's annual report was one of the few things to escape. The report has been completed by the Tribune Printing Company and was to have been delivered today. The supply of new road maps, however, went up in smoke.
C. R. Sevy, secretary to Chariman C. P. Fortney, saved about $100,000 worth of certified checks deposited by contractors at the time of the letting of contracts in February. The check were in a metal cabinet in Mr. Sevy's office on the second floor and Mr. Sevy had presence of mind to take them out and put them in his pocket when he left the building.
Miss Mary Roberts, stenographer in Secretary E. B. Carskadon's office, went back into the burning building to recue her mouth organ, which she had left behind. However, her pet typewriter, "Buttercup," and Miss Thelma Mill's pet typewriter, "Maud," in the same office, perished in the flames.
Several employe[e]s in the road commission offices on the second floor, are indebted to a C. & P. telephone wagon for facilitating their escape. The telephone wagon passed through the alley in the rear of the building just as the employe[e]s, including one young woman, were about to jump from the second story, having been cut off from the stairways. The men on the wagon, seeing their plight, unfastened a ladder and placed it against the side of the burning building. This timely rescue probably prevented some painful injuries.
L. L. Jemison, head of the bridge department, Dan Thomas of the bridge department, C. R. Sevy, Robert William, maintenance engineer, Junior Walker, employed in Division No. 1, Mrs. Mary Hall, a stenographer, and A. J. Mills were among those who lingered too long putting away papers in safes and cabinets and were cut off from the stairways. Fortunately all escaped unharmed.
Burning of Paste-Board Building Believed to Have Started From Defective Wiring, Custodian Declares
Employe[e]s Forced To Jump To Safety
Burning of Paste-Board Building Believed to Have Started From Defective Wiring, Custodian Declares
Employe[e]s Forced To Jump To Safety
The burning of the pasteboard capitol was spectacular and was marked by several narrow escapes of those who were employed on the second floor of the structure.
J. M. Lynn, custodian of the building, said the fire apparently started in the attic, possibly from the electric wiring. He said he first noticed the blaze coming through the second floor ceiling.
The building caught fire once before and Mr. Lynn extinguished the blaze before any damage was done.
Others also gave the opinion that the blaze had its origin in the attic, at a point directly over a stock and storage room of the public service commission.
James J. Divine, member of the public service commission, was almost overcome by the heat and smoke when he stopped a moment to close his metal cabinet and salvage important papers on his desk.
Judge Divine was helped through the flaming hallway by "a large man" whom he did not recognize in the smoke.
"If it had not been for him there is a strong probability I would not have gotten out," he said.
H. R. Anderson, division engineer of the state road commission, whose entire force of engineers, clerks and stenographers are employed on the second floor, stumbled through the smoke-filled corridor after the last of his staff had left the building by ladders raised to the floor from the rear. He was scorched by the flames.
James Imboden, chief engineer of the public service commission, jumped from the second floor window of his office, falling on his face, but was not seriously injured.
Mr. Imboden, together with Boyd Cain, shorthand reporter of the commission, fought the blaze with a hose installed on the second floor until they were forced by falling embers from the ceiling to leave the building.
Miss Delsie Mae Clinton and Mrs. Mark K. Hall, attaches of the division engineer's office, were trapped in their office, at the extreme end of a wing of the building. Miss Clinton jumped from the window of her office and then helped a telephone linesman hoist a ladder for Mrs. Hall.
All of the draftsmen in the office of Chief Engineer Anderson were trapped. Some jumped and others went down ladders raised by the telephone linesmen whose truck happened to be in the alley.
Had it not been for the telephone workmen, it was said that all those in the west end of the building would have been forced to jump.
Mrs. Stell Lorentz, chief or the certificate of title department, also jumped from a window on the first floor, the corridor being in flames.
Practically all of those working on the second floor were forced to flee without coats, hats and overcoats.
Miss Clinton lost her fur coat and a hat. Mr. Anderson also lost his hat and overcoat. Others suffered similar losses.
Mrs. Hall and Miss Clinton, working in the rear office to themselves, did not know the building was in flames until burning embers began falling from the ceiling. Others employed in the division engineer's office had apparently overlookde [sic] the two in the excitement attending their own escape. Mrs. Hall was overcome with smoke but was soon revived.
Hearing the commotion in the east end of the building, Mr. Anderson said he told his force to keep at work and he would investigate the trouble. He turned the corner into the main corridor and saw the rapidly-spreading flames. Returning, he said he advised all those in his offices to put on their coats and get out of the building immediately.
Judge Divine, of the public service commission, said he was in his office going over some papers when he heard the cry of fire. He stepped into the hall and saw Imboden, Cain and others working with a hose.
The hose located at the point in the hall where the fire started was not in working order, apparently, and the men rushed to another hose. Had the first equipment been in condition, Judge Divine expressed the belief that the fire might have been extinguished.
"I started back into my office, thinking I would have a minute or two to take some papers out with me, and closed the door behind me to keep out the smoke," Judge Divine said. "I closed a cabinet and took some of the records of the Cumberland and Alleghany case. I was not in the office thirty seconds but when I returned to the hall, the walls were in flames on both sides and the ceiling was falling in. The smoke was so thick I could not see but I stumbled over the hose toward the stairway. Some large man came along behind me and helped me to the front stariway [sic]."
During the burning of the building, more than a score of automobiles parked along both sides of Washington street and on Capitol street were pushed into the safety zone by bystanders. Chief of Police John Britton and Private Detective Clyde H. Smith hauled several cars away from the fire. Some of the automobiles were locked, however, and no one could get into them to release the brakes. Approximately eight cars were burned.
Officials of the state fire marshal's office were at the blaze a few minutes after the fire started. A preliminary investigation was started by Howard Welcher, deputy state fire marshal.
The senate's road investigation committee was in the office of the road commission when the fire was discovered.
The fire seemed to catch in the space directly under the roof and over the second floor ceiling. From the moment it made its appearance the tinder-like building was doomed. It was impossible to learn who saw it first, but the alarm was quickly sounded. Men and women ran from office to office yelling for clerks and stenographers to run for their lives. They kicked open closed doors and shouted to those inside offices who were serenely going on with the afternoon's work.
Quickly the second floor was cleared. Major C. R. Morgan, who had just left the office of Major C. P. Fortney, of the state road commission, and had gone to the second floor, rushed back. He found a number of automobile owners calmly buying licenses on the first floor, almost directly under the starting point of the fire. He made an effort to get the vault door closed, but the fire was spreading too rapidly. Driving the crowds before him and looking into offices for stragglers, he aided in quickly clearing the building.
In less than five minutes the entire second floor was in a blaze. It was impossible to save but very few of the valuable records. In many instances clerks did not have time to even slam shut the drawers of steel filing cases. Fur coats, goloshes, hats and overcoats were left to the flames. A few typewriters, adding machines and records were rescued from offices furtherest from the starting point of the blaze, but they represented only a small fraction of the office contents - not enough to count.
From the first the fire was too hot for firemen to fight it, and they turned their attention to surrounding property. For a time, as the wind shifted toward the new Diamond Shoe and Garment company store building, it looked as if that fine structure would at least suffer from the intense heat, but one craced plate glass window was the total damage. Employees were sent to the roof, where they stood ready for any emergency.
The Y. M. C. A. building suffered to the extent that many windows on that side of the building nearest to the fire were broken by the heat. The building smoked, but the firemen quickly turned the hose on it and no great damage was done. The building was filled with smoke, and men and boys who were in the baths in the basement threw blankets and scanty articles of clothing about them and rushed to the entrance of the building on the second floor where they waited until the danger had passed.
The excitement among the state employees as they watched the fire was intense. A number of the women clerks became hysterical. Others waded about in the mud, unmindful of soaked shoes and besplattered hose and skirts. Some rushed for telephones only to realize when they got to one that they did not know to whom or why they wanted to telephone.
High power electric wires were quickly snapped by the intense heat, and poles in every direction blazed. The electric wires, falling to the streets, came in contact with iron culverts and manhole covers and crackled and sputtered. Chief of Police John Britton raced up and down the streets yelling for spectators to stand from under the wires. A stampede followed his warning in some quarters, and several men and women were upset and rolled in the mud by the rushing crowds that poured over onto the old state house lot. Others continued to stand under the wires and to push further toward the blaze.
A number of automobiles, parked in the vicinity of the building caught fire, and at least seven were completely consumed. One car, near the corner of Washington and Capitol street, blazed merrily with headlights on, and after everything burnable about the car was consumed and the ruins were left smoking, the lights still burned. A section of hose stretched along Washington street burned while still spouting water from the nozzle, and water gushed through to form a cascade. Trees were almost completely consumed. The sidewalks and street paving were so warm after the fire subsided that many people stood to dry their soaking feet.
The offices of the attorney general, in the brick building adjoining the temporary capitol building, were gutted and the building almost completely destroyed. Other departments, housed in the temporary capitol building, were gutted and the building almost completely destroyed. Other departments, housed in the temporary building, were those of the state labor bureau, the public service commission, the state road commission, the state bureau of negro welfare and the offices of the janitor. Several nearby frame buildings Summers and Capitol streets and on the adjoining alley were damaged to some extent.
The fire seemed to burn itself out almost as quickly as it caught. Soon there was left only smoking ruins into which firemen poured many streams of water. The crowd slowly gathered closer. Hundreds of filing cases showed in the debris, their contents apparently burned beyond recognition. Many of them seemed to have burst open from the intense heat. Later state employees endeavored to salvage some of the contents, but whether any records at all were saved seemed doubtful.
The origin of the fire was in doubt, state employees said. Major Fortney said that it seemed to have caught under the roof, how, he could not say. That the building was considered a fire hazard was freely admitted. It was stated that there had been a number of embryo blazes in it at various times ever since it was erected. Waste-basket fires have occurred several times, but watchful men and women succeeded in getting them extinguished.
The building was of a thoroughly combustible type. The construction was of the flimsiest kinds. Thin weather-boarding formed the outside walks, paper building board formed the partitions, two-by-fours, light joists and thin flooring predominated. There was no basement under the building except in the heating plant room in the Summers street side.
Before the fire was half consumed the Charleston chamber of commerce was on the job, looking for new locations for the offices. Managing Director S. P. Puffer telephoned to owners and agents of vacant buildings and received many proffers of quarters for the state offices. President R. O. Newcomb, of the chamber, called a meeting of the board of directors of the chamber for this morning at nine o'clock at the chamber to complete arrangements for the housing of the offices, purchasing furniture and supplies and getting the business of the state going again with the least possible delay. Such records and office furniture and appliances as were saved were stored in the basement of the city library building. It was thought that the building will not be rebuilt, but that the offices will be scattered about the city in the best locations, that may be secured until the second unit of the state building that is now well under way is completed.
Local Insurance Agent, Calling At Offices of Road Commission, First to See Flames That Destroyed
Local Insurance Agent, Calling At Offices of Road Commission, First to See Flames That Destroyed State House.
Major C. R. Morgan, an insurance agent, apparently discovered the fire. He had gone to the road commission offices on a business matter, first stopping in the office of Chairman C. P. Fortney, on the first floor on the Capitol street front, then going the full length of the main hallway on the lower floor to a stairway by which he ascended to the second floor, and coming back along the main hallway on the second floor to near the middle of the building where he entered the offices of H. R. Anderson, first division engineer. Mr. Morgan came back out immediately and saw smoke, which he had not noticed when he passed through the hallway a minute or two earlier. He sounded the alarm, and aided by G. H. Hill, resident engineer, attempted to close the doors of a vault, from which they were driven by the heat. Mr. Morgan ran through the hallway, giving warning of the fire, and thence downstairs where employees were working, some waiting on a line of persons seeking automobile licenses, all being unaware of the fire blazing above their heads.
Transcripts of the testimony and documentary evidence in the hearing before Governor Gore of the charges against John C. Bond, who, following the hearing, was removed from the office of state auditor, were saved from the fire which destroyed Attorney General Lee's office building yesterday.
Mr. Lee had been examining the records in preparation for the impeachment trial of Bond before the state senate on March 16, but he had time to replace them in a vault before the flames, spreading from the adjoining temporary capitol building, drove Mr. Lee and his assistants from their offices.
The attorney general's building was badly damaged. The roof and second floor fell in as the flames gutted the structure. However, the vault in the building is considered one of the best, and Mr. Lee is confident that all records in it will be found intact.
Troopers Establish Guard Over Ruins at Temporary State House and Maintain Regular Eight Hour
Shifts on Job.
Assist Local Cops In Keeping Order
Troopers Establish Guard Over Ruins at Temporary State House and Maintain Regular Eight Hour Shifts on Job.
Assist Local Cops In Keeping Order
Armed with riot guns and operating in regular shifts, eight state troopers last night established a guard over the ruins of the fire gutted temporary capitol buildings at Capitol and Washington streets.
Their task of guarding the debris, and incidentally the three safes which are known to have withstood the flames and protected the contents, began early yesterday afternoon, when they reached the scene shortly after the arrival of the fire department.
Plunging into their work without a moments hesitation, the troopers in addition to aiding the local police in maintaining order among the thousands of persons who flocked to the scene, when it became generally known that the "Pasteboard" capitol was afire, lend a willing hand to the firemen in moving the many lines of hose and directing the streams of water upon blazing structure. And, although drenched by spray, the troopers remained at their posts, performing their duties and more, until relieved for a period long enough to permit them to hurry to department headquarters and secure dry uniforms.
T. F. Yost, of the Clendenin post, was among the first of the troopers to reach the scene, and because of his prominent post at the corner of Capitol and Washington streets was besieged by hundreds of persons anxious to obtain authentic information regarding the blaze. However, despite the thousands of questions hurled upon him the trooper found time to loan his weight and strength to the corps of firemen handling the hose which passed the spot where he had been detailed to guard the safe laying in the ruins, marking the spot which was formerly the office of C. E. Hiner, road commissioner.
And, after the fire had been brought under control, Trooper Yost was still to be found at his post, guarding the ruins from those persons who might be expected to endeavor to prowl through the debris in hopes of finding and making away with some article of value, or from a possible attempt to open one of the three safes which are said to contain large sums of cash.
Dead-lines were established around the ruins by the troopers shortly after the fire had been partially quenched and late last night, a rope had been stretched around the site of the capitol and all persons were prohibited from trespassing beyond this barrier.
Then began the task of protecting the ruins, and the eight troopers, three of whom had been called to Charleston from nearby stations, established their patrol which lasted throughout the night, and will be halted only when all the remaining records and articles of value have been removed from the debris and taken to a place of safety.
Headquarter Sergeant H. T. Wilson headed the contingent of troopers which maintained the all night watch, and declared that each of his seven men might be relied upon to rigidly enforce observance of the deadline, as shown by the rope barrier.
Corporal H. C. Hicks and Trooper Carl Peterfish, of the Dry Branch post, called to Charleston for special duty aided Sergeant S. A. Clinton, Sergeant C. H. Skeen, R. L. Innis, and B. L. Woofter in patrol[l]ing the ruins.
L. W. Stanard, Reporter for Public Service Commission Saw Blaze Burst From Office of
L. W. Stanard, Reporter for Public Service Commission Saw Blaze Burst From Office of Commission's Janitor.
The fire started in the office of the public service commission's janitor, believes L. W. Stanard, a reporter for the commission. The janitor's office is located about in the middle of the building on the north side of the main hallway on the second floor. Mr. Stanard said last night that someone whose name he forgot in the excitement, opened the door of the janitors room, and the blaze burst out in the hallway. Mr. Stanard grabbed a fire hose, but no water came out, so he ran back into the his office, seized voluminous record he had just completed transcribing in the Clarksburg Light and Heat company case before the public service commission, and carried it out of the building and into the Masonic temple across the street.
He did not take his hat and coat, thinking he would have time to come back and get it, but when he had put the transcript in a safe place, the flames shooting out of the Capitol street entrance. Fortunately some of the employees of the public service commission threw Mr. Stanard's hat and coat out of the window and into the alley that runs between the temporary capitol building and the building in which Attorney General Lee's offices are located. The saviors of Mr. Stanard's hat and coat had to jump out of the windows to save themselves.
Government and Politics