03/12/11 436 W, 2 I - + 6 - 4 NC Digital Collections / Inactive Haz-Mat Sites / Caraleigh Phosphate Fire 1892

North Carolina Digital Collections is a nifty collection of digitized and born-digital materials held by the state archives and the state library. Thanks to Mrs. Blogger for pointing out the text-recognition of capability. Click Advanced Search and search for the phrase "fire department." The resulting 165 items, as of this morning, including municipal and organization histories, public facility and municipal annexation plans, and even this inventory of inactive hazardous materials sites from 2009 and 2008. Total of 115 are listed for Wake County.


Looking down the list, the "CARALEIGH PHOSPHATE AND" at 1601 Lake Wheeler Road leaps out at Yours Truly. That's the site of the 1892 fire at the Caraleigh Phosphate and Fertilizer Warehouse, one of the city's biggest fires in the 1890s. The present owner of the property, say tax records, is Southern Roofing & Metals Company. There are 3.97 deeded acres. In this history document of mine titled Raleigh Fire Department 1880-1899, the incident is described on page 19 as:

The Caraleigh Phosphate and Fertilizer Warehouse southwest of Raleigh was destroyed by fire on Aug 19, 1892. Discovered just after dark in the acid chambers, a "mammoth structure" measuring 250 feet long and 60 feet high, the blaze began in a burner room used for making sulfuric acid. Several fire department members responded and assisted, though they were unable to take their apparatus outside of the city limits. The company, located past the Insane Asylum on Asylum Road, had a $5,000 water system with seven hydrants and a pump. After the pump became disabled, the firefighters relied on gravity-fed pressure from the 10,000- gallon tank on top of the manufacturing mill. By 9:30 p.m., the entire structure was in ruins. The entire building and its contents were destroyed, with an estimated $25,000. 98

Over 4,000 tons of sulfuric acid spilled onto the ground during the fire and likely soaked into the water table. Seven years later, problems with the city water supply were reported. During a special meeting of the Board of Alderman on Mar. 10, 1899, the Committee of Physicians reported that water supplied by the Caraleigh Phosphate Mills was contaminated. They cited the cause as either the 1892 fire or the tipping over of a large vat in 1898. The physicians reported that the contaminated water was in their opinion "injurious to health, and unfit for domestic use" and while "causing disordered digestion and bowel disturbances" was not necessarily "dangerous life." They recommended that the city's water supply pipe running through that area be relocated a safe distance from the contaminated area.99

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