04/07/07 1146 W - + 12 - 13 Spectacular and Dangerous Fires

Thus read the headline of the May 27, 1911 edition of the News & Observer, when St. Agnes Hospital burned and every other building at St. Augustine School caught fire. The full story, quite amazing even by contemporary comparison, is printed below. First, some notes. The school and all its buildings caught fire before, on March 6, 1883. Only one building was partially saved. St. Agnes hospital burned two years earlier, in its earlier building. It burned again on December 16, 1926. St. Agnes, or external walls, still stands. It closed in 1961. The Milburnie power plant noted in the article is a hydroelectric plant on the Neuse River east of Raleigh. Here's the article:

One of the most spectacular and most dangerous fires that the Raleigh Fire Department has ever had to fight was that at St. Agnes Hospital and St. Augustine School which started last night about 7 o'clock. With practically all of the buildings and much of the ground charged with 6,600 volts of electricity from the wires of the Milburnie plant of the Carolina Light and Power Company it was a very perilous situation for any one to face. It was nearly 11 o'clock when the current was cut off and everything was thought to be safe. Nearly every one of the buildings was ablaze at least two or more times during the night.

The first fire occurred in St. Agnes Hospital and the pump station, which stood nearby. Possibly a stroke of lightning hit the wires leading into the hospital, no one seems to know, or possibly it was the high wind that for a moment caused a clash of high voltage wires with the light circuit. Anyway, the fire started in the switchboard of the basement of the new $40,000 hospital. The flames followed the conduits and the elevator shaft and soon spread over the building. One man went to throw a bucket water on the burning switchboard and was terribly shocked, the water being a means of forming a circuit. The nurses of the hospital and students worked hard to transfer the 47 patients to Smedes Hall, which is the old hospital, and had just succeeded in doing so when the fire gained great headway. Rev. A. B. Hunter, principal of the school, was almost caught in the flames near the floor, It was a pitiful sight to see the weak and feeble trying to reach places of safety. One particularly pathetic incident was a crippled man, whose leg was amputated Thursday, hobbling out on crutches amid great pain. The students worked valiantly to save the hospital, and had the fire somewhat controlled when the fire department arrived, and by hard work extinguished the flames for a time. Returning to the stations, the men had hardly pulled of their fire-fighting outfit[s] when a second call came and this time it was found that the whole hospital was charged with electricity.

From all points there was a sputtering and sparking that created a sight seldom seen. It was a dangerous situation, but finally Chief Lumsden of the fire department managed to work his way in, while City Electrician Will Carter was cutting the wires. The fire in the hospital was gotten under control and from the Smedes Building about this time the alarm of fire came. The patients were shifted to the Taylor Hall and cared for there until more comfortable quarters could be obtained. The flames did considerable damage to Smeades Hall, and especially bad was the water damage. The girl's dormitory, Goodman Lodge, caught fire; the laundry also blazed forth and in fact fire was discovered at times during in the night in all of the buildings at least one time and in many times more than two. In the meantime, City Electrician Carter was working to cut off the current as this was the only effective way of controlling the outbreaks. At times the trees on the grounds sparked and cracked. One of the big wires fell to the ground near Taylor Hall and sputtered, fussed, sparked and burned. No one could with safety move about the grounds, as there was no telling what moment one would step upon a charged area.

Rev. A. B. Hunter, the principal of the school gave the News & Observer reporter many facts about the fire. He said he was seated at his dinner table while the storm was raging outside and was attracted by seeing sparks of electricity playing about the wires in the library room and on a pole in his back yard. About this instant the fire in St. Agnes Hospital was again discovered and the fighting began. There are four hydrants on the grounds and the school boys prepared to fight the fire themselves, and did some good work at the hospital. Rev. Mr. Hunter said the school was completely at the mercy of the 6,600 volts of electricity from the Milburnie plant for about two hours. All possible efforts were have the current cut off, the power plant in the city finding it impossible to reach the Milburnie plant by telephone. Finally Chief Lumsden rushed out to the plant in an automobile, but before he got to the plant Electrician Carter had succeeded in cutting its circuits. However, Mr. Hunter was very grateful at the work the Raleigh Fire Department did to save the school.

The his indeed one fire where the public did not care to rush into. It took men who knew their business to venture about such dangerous places.

The pumping station with its two pumps and motor equipment was burned out, and it is feared the school will have difficulty in obtaining a water supply for a while. The damaged by the fire and water was hard to estimate last night, but will probably be about $10,000 to $15.000, maybe more. The new hospital, recently completed at a cost of $40,000, is pretty badly damaged, and nothing definitive can be ascertained until insurance adjusters make their report. The entire loss is believed to be fully covered by insurance.

While rushing to the fire last night the firemen narrowly escaped disaster on New Bern Avenue, near Idlewild. The storm had blown a big oak tree across the street. The firemen had to make their way down Idlewild Street and out another one.

The rapidity with which Chief Lumsden responded in his automobile shows the advantage of such a machine at times of fire. The machine also came in splendidly on the run to Milburnie.

The exactly place where the wires crossed was not ascertained last night. By permission of Mayor Johnson, City Electrician Carter cut off all the lights on the circuit near the school.

More than a year ago, St. Augustine school suffered sever loss by fire. The hospital was in charge of Dr. Catherine P. Hayden. The school this year has a total registration of 339 pupils, including the ones who attend from the city.

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