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3 corrections, most recently by aholgate37 - Show corrections




Dense volumes of smoke rolling across the business portion of the city on Satur- day afternoon, shortly before 4 o'clock, was an intimation that a fire of some dimensions had broken out, and quickly a large crowd of spectators had gathered on the scene of the outbreak, at the corner of Grenfell and Chesser streets. The two- storied premises occupied by Messrs. James Robin & Co., grocery warehousemen, were well alight, and the full strength of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade was concentrat- ed on the burning building, which had a considerable depth to Chesser-street.

Diverting Tramway Traffic.

In order'to facilitate the work of the fire- men the electric tramway traffic was stopped in Grenfell-street and the cars which usually run along that thoroughfare were diverted into Pulteney-street. Water from several lines of hose was quickly playing on the burning building, the attack being made from Grenfell and Chesser streets, but for over an hour little impres-

sion appeared to be made. The whole of   the interior was a blazing furnace, and when the front door was burst open the  

flames could be seen far into the centre of the building, and the roar clearly indicated that there was little hope of saving the


The building adjoining on the west side was occupied by the Small Arms Company, and the attention of the firemen was   directed to preventing the fire spreading in that direction. It was a perilous and arduous task, as the heat was intense, and more than once the firemen were driven

temporarily from the upper storey win-

dows of the burning building.

The first alarm of fire was given by Wm.   Rogers, a corporation employe, who, pass- ing along Freeman-street, noticed clouds of smoke rising from the building. Someone

else almost at the same time noticed that something was amiss, so that almost simul- taneously the Metropolitan Fire Brigade re- ceived calls from the Freeman-street and Arcade alarms. The head station imme- diately turned out in full strength, with two reels, motor engine, steamer, and ladder.

Premises Well Alight.

Smoke was noticed issuing from the building as the turnouts left the station, showing that the fire had already got a good grip. On arrival the firemen found the premises were well alight from end to end. flames were issuing through the windows at the back, the front, and the sides, and from the roof, while two sky- lights took them up as if they were fun- nels intended for the purpose. The blaze originated in the basement, about the centre of the building, and went through from the basement to the roof, sending out dense volumes of smoke reeking with the smell of burnt oil and stores.

"Working the Job."

It was found difficult to locate the seat of the fire, owing to the number of small partitions, 6 to 8 ft. high, in the interior. Five lines of hose were quickly got to work,

two from the 9-in. mains on the east side of Grenfell-street, one from the 6-in. main in Pirie-street, and one from the main in Chesser-street, and they were effective in preventing the spread of the fire. The motor engine was at work soon after the arrival of Superintendent Rickwood, who, seeing the smoke from the Botanic Gardens, jumped on the first bicycle he could find,

and arrived on the scene a minute or two after the brigade. The engine reservoir was supplied from one of the Grenfell-street mains, and fed two lines of hose with 1¼-in. nozzles with a pressure equal to sending the water half the length of the building.

Collapse of the Roof.

The brigade had been at work hardly more than a quarter of an hour when the front portion of the roof collapsed and gave the flames additional vent. The firemen, how- ever, had their forces so concentrated that these were soon subdued, only to be re- placed by blinding columns of smoke. This spread out into clouds so dense that at times it was difficult to see the firemen working on the face of the building, and spectators on the opposite side of the street coughed and wiped their eyes. In two cases firemen had to be relieved of their duties for a while, so pungent and dense was the smoke. The hoses were kept busily plying and the basement was drenched from the rear with a spray nozzle. Access was also gained from the front of the build- ing and another stream of water was di- rected from there. The ground floor near the seat of the fire burned through, and the greater portion of it collapsed in the base- ment, necessitating very careful work by the firemen. Several cases of oils ex-   ploded.

Wall Threatens to Collapse.

The front wall now threatened a new danger, as, cracked and tottery, it de- veloped a distinct lean towards the pave- ment, and appliances were moved out of harm's way. The collapse, however, was averted by pouring cooling jets of water on the wall from the interior. Within an hour all danger of the spread of the fire was averted, although the thick clouds of smoke showed that it would still be hours before the fire would be extinguished. As a matter of fact, it was 11 p.m. before the outbreak was really subdued, and then it was necessary to keep two hoses going to keep the smouldering debris from bursting into flames. At this time the interior of the building presented an appearance of desolation, charred stock, stained with smoke and water, lying all over the place, while through the open space where the roof had been light-colored wreaths of

smoke issued.

The Superintendent's Statement.

The superintendent of the fire brigade (Lieutenant Rickwood) said when the brigade arrived entrance was forced into the building from four sides, and particu- lar attention was paid to the division wall which separates Robin &. Co.'s premises   from those occupied by the Small Arms Company. The latter carried a large stock of explosives and cartridges, but fortu- nately they were not affected by the heat, and the fire was kept clear of them. "I looked in there." said Mr. Rickwood. "Everything was safe." Efforts were made at the outset to prevent the spread of the fire, as owing to the big hold it had obtained it was soon seen that the building was doomed. The water pres- sure was all that could be desired. Al- though the fire was safely under control in about two hours two hoses were kept going practically all night on the smoking debris. The salvage will consist of por- tion of the basement stock, for imme- diately the fire below was subdued the motor was set to work pumping out the water so as to minimise the damage as far as possible.

Valuable Assistance.

"There was a big crowd of people anxious to see the blaze, and they were  


kept from encroaching on the firemen by   the police. Motorman Stoneham and Con-  

ductor Luck, ex-fireman, now employed by the Municipal Tramways Trust, rendered  

valuable assistance in checking the fire. Three firemen were on leave for the day,

and two of them — one was out of town —

were present in plain clothes and worked as hard as anyone."

A Desolate Scene.

Sunday morning revealed walls bare of plaster standing smoky and begrimed above a chaos of charred and water- soaked articles, including matches, tinned foods, rice, tea, and many other goods —

all that was left of a well-stocked ware-  

house. The debris was still smouldering at noon on Sunday. It had received the


attention of four firemen from midnight, but because of the difficulty in turning   it over the fire could not be put out. Two men kept the water on this mass during Sunday morning, and in the afternoon the number was increased by three, and by 6 p.m. the last vestige of smoke had disappeared. The fire was out.

Extent of the Damage.

"It is hard to say," said Superintendent Rickwood, ''what the extent of the damage is, for in the basement there are tinned goods lying in heaps, with their wooden cases burned, and the labels destroyed. The stock in the basement appears more or less destroyed or damaged, the ground floor has practically been burnt out, while the first floor over the front portion of the building has been so eaten into by the fire that you may say it is valueless. In addi- tion, the front portion of the roof has fallen in, and all that is left of it is a few


sheets of galvanised iron twisted with the


The Insurances.

The loss of stock cannot be estimated un-

til valuators have gone through the sal- vaged goods, but it is understood that the damage is almost covered by the insurance.   The building was insured for £1,500 with the Liverpool and Globe Assurance Com- pany, the contents and fittings for £3,750 with the Phoenix Assurance Company, and the contents for £1,000 with the National Fire and Marine Assurance Company of New Zealand, while smaller liabilities were held by one or two other societies.  

A Sporting Firm.

The partners in the business, Messrs,   Roland, Strachan, and S. Fiddian, who ac- quired the business a few months ago, were both absent from the city when the fire occurred. The senior partner, Mr. Strachan,

was away on the golf links, while Mr. Fiddian was sailing his yacht, Matangi, in the Kintore Cup contest at the Sema- phore. The departmental manager, Mr. A. Whyte, was stroking the Mercantile Row- ing Club's eight-oar crew in the champion   eights on the Port Adelaide River, while the chief accountant (Mr. J. J. Mitchell) was playing cricket at Unley. Other mem- bers of the staff were engaged in various sports.

The Origin of the Fire.

How the fire originated remains a mys- tery. It was rumored that it was caused by the fusing of an electric wire, but this statement has not been verified, because the quantity of debris made investigation im- possible. The seat of the fire was the basement about the centre of the building, and that is all that is known. The build- ing was locked up by the foreman at the usual time, soon after 1 p.m. Everything  

then was all right. The building was one of the oldest in Grenfell-street. The pre- sent business was established in 1847 by the late Captain Baire, who three or four years later was joined by the late Mr. James Robin, who carried it on till his death, in 1894. Two sons, Messrs. H. N. and R. B. Robin, succeeded to the busi- ness, and are still connected with it. The firm, however, now consists of Messrs. Fid- dian and Strachan. The former is a grand- son of the late Mr. James Robin. The building itself for some years belonged to the estate of the late Mr. Robin, but it is understood that it has recently been pur- chased by Mr. Richard Smith, of Messrs. Harris, Scarfe, & Co.

Stocks and Losses.

Mr. Fiddian, when interviewed by a re- presentative of "The Advertiser," said that the stocks carried were the heaviest held

for years, but the losses he could not com-- pute, on account of the difficulty in apprais- ing the value of the salvaged goods. The stocks included various lines of oils, in- cluding turpentine and kerosine, but as these had been placed in a special kerosine store, they were, fortunately, not damaged. The heavier losses occurred in the factory on the first floor, where everything was destroyed. The grocery stocks suffered


Carrying on the Business.

The safes apparently are intact, although the office fittings are destroyed, and this will help the firm in carrying on the busi- ness. Arrangements have been made to secure temporary quarters from Messrs. T. J. and W. Dyason, of Currie-street, while Mr. Fiddian has obtained offices in the Widows' Fund Building. The firm has bulk stores at Port Adelaide, which will enable it to carry on business as before.