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Notable Fires:

Palace Hotel
On Tuesday, April 3, 1883, AT 1.45 P.M.
Box 38, 1:55 p.m.


John E. Ross, District Engineer, was killed in the discharge of his duty by an explosion of gas at the Palace Hotel, on Tuesday, April 3, 1883, at 1.45 P.M.

1883 Palace Hotel

The cause of the explosion was the breaking in two of an eight-inch gas main, while some plumbers were engaged in connecting a pipe with the fifteen-hundred light gas meter which had just been put in place by the Central Gas Company, without turning off the gas at the main. Whether it was caused by a light taken down by some person, or a plumber's furnace which was filled with live coals in the passage-way a short distance from the vault then ignited, is a matter of great doubt. A volume of flame poured into the street from the place in the sidewalk where light was admitted into the vault through plates of thick glass, which had been shattered to atoms by the explosion.

The proximity of the headquarters of the Fire Patrol to the hotel gave that branch of the service an advantage in point of those over the members of the Fire Department by getting to the source of the alarm by "a still." A number of the Patrol, headed by Capt. Russell White, and provided with Babcock Extinguishers, descended to the basement and found the broken eight-inch main pouring out a volume of flame to its full capacity. By means of the Babcock apparatus the flame was extinguished and the eight-inch stream of gas immediately filled the vaults and drove the men out. At this time the Fire Department and my men, headed by Engineer Ross, were going through the dark basement passage to the vault—the patrolmen and the men employed about the hotel were with him—when a second explosion occurred, more violent and disastrous in its results than the other. This was about fifteen minutes after the first. This explosion greatly intensified the excitement above, and it was believed that every person in the east basement — some thirty men — had been killed. The flow of gas had in the meantime been cut off at one of the valves, and the danger from this source terminated. The men were looked after, and, one by one, they came or were brought out of the dark passage, all alive, but many of them frightfully disfigured and burned by the flames. Of the members of the Fire Department, five were badly injured, namely, Fire Commissioner Frank G. Edwards; John E. Ross, Assistant Engineer, received injuries which resulted in his death; James Riley, Foreman Hose No. 5; James Cullinan, Hoseman Engine No, 10; and John McGarvy, of Truck No. 1. Of the Fire Patrol, Capt. Russell White was very badly burned, as also John White, John McCormack, George W. Harrison, R. S. Chapman, Eugene J. Drew and George LaRose; also twenty-three hotel employees and workmen, making a total of thirty-five persons injured.
Source: 1883 Municipal Report, page 323

At the time of this incident, 3rd Assistant Chief Engineer John Ross was quartered at Engine Company No. 4, 122 Second Street. After his rescue he was taken to his firehouse where he died two days later.

Narrow Escape of Three Plumbers in the Basement on the New Montgomery Side
Disastrous Effects of a Second Explosion
Members of the Underwriters' Fire Patrol, an Assistant Engineer, and Other Firemen Badly Injured –
Thirty-five Persons More or Less Burned.

1883 April 4

A disaster from explosion of gas occurred yesterday at the Place Hotel shortly before two o'clock in the basement of the Palace Hotel, directly under the New Montgomery street parlors, causing considerable damage and injuring a large number of persons. It appeared that the meter of the Central Gas Company was out of order and plumbers were called in to repair it. The workmen ware Addison Goodrich of Oakland, John Burness and assistant am known as “Jack ". As the sidewalk glass, which admitted the sunlight to the cellarway, was somewhat dirty and muddy, a lamp was hung near the meter to enable the men to see better. The large valve connecting the meter with the hose pipe was leaking badly and the accumulated gas coming in contact with the lamp exploded. Goodrich was thrown to the ground insensible, but recovered consciousness in a few minutes He retained his prostrate position, being afraid to move in ear of another explosion, and being almost blinded by the


Could do nothing but call for assistance. The other plumbers were but slightly burned and managed to escape to a place of safety. The great quantity of smoke issuing from the sidewalk was noticed by Officer Fox, who turned in an alarm from box 38 at five minutes to two o'clock. The explosion made but a slight report and did not attract the attention of the hotel people. While the alarm was being turned in the large eight inch supply pipe, which had been ruptured by the explosion, was pouring gas into the basement filling it completely. The Fire Patrol arrived at the scene about thirty seconds after the alarm struck and proceeded to the basement by the entrance near the elevator on the southern side of the hotel. Two Engine, Chief Scannell and several of the District Engineers arrived a minute later later and passed into the basement by a nearer way. A large number of outside parties and attaches of the building, excited by the prospect of a fire in the establishment were pouring down stairs. Goodrich, the plumber, between his gasping for breath, called out,


The noise of the trampling feet drowned the sound of his voice and the firemen— one of their number bearing a candle—turned into the room. Captain White of the Fire Patrol, District Engineer Ross and John J Kavauagh, Jr. were the foremost to enter, and were followed by the crowd. The instant the man having the lighted candle entered the gas apartment, a second explosion took place, tearing the heavy iron head of the large meter from its fastening and shattering it into fragments against the opposite brick wall, and smashing the pipe adjoining into pieces. Men were thrown from their feet and alighting, knocked each other down. The crowd that had been pushing forward from behind became bewildered, and instead of returning, began fighting their way in. An incredible scene of horror then ensued. The huge main pipe continued to pour out gas, which caught fire, and the


The terrified crowd were cursing, shouting, screaming and moaning, and it seemed that all would meet their death. The firemen above came promptly to their assistance by pouring in a volume of water. The men then somewhat recovered their recovered and those who were able ran out, some assisting the others. The gas was at once turned off and the flames were quickly quenched. The unfortunates presented horrible appearance when they came out. Every person who was in the crowd, about thirty in all, was more or less burned. some seriously. Medical assistance was immediately sought and the injured were taken to drug stores or into the hotel. Drs. Stanton and Stainbaugb of the City Receiving Hospital were telephoned and responded immediately. Dr. I. M. King, who was in the vicinity, came to the relief of the sufferers in Bryan's apothecary store, while the other medical gentlemen attended to the balance. Captain White was burned in a terrible manner about the face, head and arms. District Engineer Ross, the most unfortunate man in the Department, sustained severe injuries about the upper portion of the body and inhaled the flames, which may cause pneumonia to set in. Mr. Ross


received by being thrown from his buggy. About six months ago he barely escaped from being asphyxiated in a fire in J. Kelly's paint store on Market street. Mr. Kavanaugh, the son of the tailor at the Palace, was probably worst injured of any. The flesh of both arms below the elbow was horribly charred, and his entire face, with the exception of his eyes was an unacceptable mass of baked flesh. His head was also burned in a fearful manner. Dr. King stated that the only thing that saved him from death was that he wore his hair long, which partially protected his scalp. The physician stated that the chance of a recovery are against him. James Reilly of No 5 hose was among those who was among those most seriously hurt. He was thrown a distance of several feet, and laid in such a position that the flames enveloped his body. The Underwriters' Patrol men beside Captain White who were burned are George B. Laross, G. W. Harrison, J. F. McCormack. E. F. Drew, John Ford and I. Chapman. Those were badly burned about the face and hands, and after soothing liniments and bandages had been applied, they were placed in the beds of the Patrol House. Their injuries will necessitate their retirement from active duty for some time. Captain White was placed in a carriage and taken home, and Mr. Ross was removed to No. 4 Engine house on Second street. The following is


John E Ross, District Engineer.
Russell White, Captain Fire Patrol.
George B. Larose, private. Fire Patrol.
G. W. Harrison, private. Fire Patrol.
J. F. McCormack. private. Fire Patrol.
E. F. Drew, private, Fire Patrol.
John Ford, private, Fire Patrol.
L. Chapman, private, Fire Patrol.
James Reilly, Foreman Five Hose.
Frank Smith, Virginia City.
John McGarvy, of One Truck.
John J. Kavanaugh, Jr.
Addison Goodrich, plumber.
John Burness, plumber.
John Upshen, waiter.
William Moyseil, waiter.
Mr. McNaughton, a steward.
John Cole, a boy.
John A. Jackson, watchman of the hotel.
Hank Smith, Superintendent of the Belcher mines.
John Anderson, silversmith.
William Hunter, yardman.
Santion Delmat. club-room man.
John Jennings, plumber, badly burned about the face.
Frank Rosecamp, substitute extraman of One Truck.
A young man named Gately.
An unknown man, residing in Oakland.

Beside the foregoing there were about eight or ten others who were slightly injured, but did not apply for assistance and their names could not be ascertained. Captain Douglass procured carriages for the wounded and had them conveyed to their homes.


Being numbered among the victims. Not being acquainted with the passages ways in the basement, he called a young man to show him the way. A delay of a few seconds was caused, and the two proceeded rapidly to the portion where the accident took place. They were within about six feet of the entrance when the explosion on occurred and were startled by the report and flash, and by the men falling at their feet.
Mr. Hill, Chief of the Oakland Fire Department, accompanied Chief Scannell to the fire, but a run-a-way team occupied his attention, and he deferred going into the basement. He afterward rendered some assistance in caring for the wounded at the Patrol House.

The damage caused by the fire and explosion will be covered by about $1,000. The floor was covered by water to a depth of about eight inches before the Department stopped playing the hose though the sidewalk.

An immense crowd collected about the neighborhood. during and after the explosion, and a squad of police from the Central Station was dispatched to the scene. The streets were cleared, ropes were stretched, and the firemen were given room to work without interference
The seconded explosion would have been prevented but for the statement of a hotel attaché, who answered the firemen that the gas had been turned off after the first explosion. This man's name the firemen could not remember, and keeping his word, they went into the place with a candle.

Mr. Ross’ condition was precarious last night, his breathing was very irregular, and the pain became so intense that it was necessary to place the patient under the influence of opiates. Captain While was resting as easily as his painful injuries would permit Lieutenant O'Neill has assumed change of the Underwriters' Patrol. The wounded men have been replaced by a Number of substitutes, who, although not regularly engaged, have all seen service.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 35, Number 12033, 4 April 1883 — EXPLOSION OF GAS. [ARTICLE]


1883 April 10

Fire Commissioner Edwards appears to be growing worse from the injuries he received at the gas explosion at the Palace Hotel. The injury to the back of his head is very painful and causes insomnia. Captain White of the Fire Patrol is convalescing, and will be able to resume his duties in about two weeks. An occulist has made an examination of his eyes and believes that they have sustained no serious or permanent injury. The swelling of his face is considerably reduced. All the other patrolmen are improving, and then burnt flesh is being removed by the physicians as rapidly as possible in order that the new cuticle may form. Young Kavanaugh was doing well yesterday.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 35, Number 12039, 10 April 1883 — THE GAS EXPLOSION VICTIMS. [ARTICLE]


1883 April 29

All the Fire Patrolmen who were injured by the gas explosion at the Palace Hotel have recovered, and will return to duty after they have spent a vacation at San Rafael. Patrolman Ford, who suffered severely, is able to be about the Patrol House.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 35, Number 12058, 29 April 1883 — THE FIREMEN. [ARTICLE]


1883 April 12 in part

The following from Commissioner Edwards was also read:
Gentlemen: Please accept the thanks of my family and myself for the kind sympathy of the officers and members of the Department, and the general public. There is nothing relieves in monotony of sick-room more than the well-wishes of the public.
The certificate of Dr. S. M. Mouser, Mr. Edwards' physician, states that he will not be able to be about for many days.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 35, Number 12041, 12 April 1883 — FIRE COMMISSIONERS. [ARTICLE]

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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