Monday, January 17, 2011

Fire, Explosion wreck Washington St. House

This story was published by The Ypsilanti Daily Press on Thursday, January 15, 1931.

Fire Wednesday evening, 6:30, followed by an explosion which rocked houses in the immediate vicinity was heard nearly ten blocks away, completely wrecked the two story frame dwelling at 420 S. Washington St., owned by Joseph Richardson and injured one tenant.

The force of the explosion which was caused by carbon monoxide gas hurled Mrs. Jennie Murphy, 20 years old, from the front room of the house, through the front door opening and down the steps nearly 15 feet from the dwelling. Mrs. Murphy had started to leave when the fire was discovered and as she reached the front door the explosion occurred. She was severely stunned and received cuts and bruises about her body, caused by flying glass and the fall. She required the medical treatment of a physician but was not taken to hospital.

Fragments of glass of the window panes were strewn within a radius of 75 feet of the wrecked house and flying missiles broke a window in a house 80 feet away. Other pieces of glass were found on roofs ad window sills of adjoining buildings.

The entire southern portion of the roof of the house was blown to the ground. North and south sides of the house were bulged approximately six inches, and pictures, wall paper and plaster were broken loose from the inside of the building. When the roof was blown off parts of bedding and household articles wre also catapulted from the house.

Furniture in the house was overturned, rafters, beams and floors loosened.

There are three families and two boarders living in the home. Viola Wright and her two children, Isabella, 17, and Anne, 10, and Mr. and Mrs. Murphy lived downstairs. Mr. and Mrs. Austin Patterson, two small girls, Margaret, five, and a two-year-old girl and Archie Fielder a Mrs. Abrams lived upstairs.

At the time of the fire only Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Patterson and her two children and Isabella and Anne Wright were at home.

Mrs. Patterson and children wre taken from the roof above the porch after smoke had blocked escape down the stairs. They groped their way back through the smoke to an outside window and to the roof, as the explosion occurred.

The fire was discovered by Isabella in the kitchen, in an opening where there had been a stairway at one time. She said flames were licking the walls and were climbing rapidly up the opening to the upstairs.

Smoke filled all rooms of the house, and lack of ventilation caused the explosion. The fire department arrived just as the blast occurred: according to Fire Chief A. H. Miller, it probably could have been averted if windows and doors had been opened.

After battling the flames for nearly one0half hour the fire was brought under control.

Origin of the fire is undetermined according to Chief Miller, an investigation failing to reveal any method by which it could start. No charged wires or stoves are near the opening where Isabella first saw the flames. Mice nests were found after the fire and it is possible mice may have been responsible.

“In 18 years of service on the local fire department,” states Mr. Miller, “this is the first time I have ever witnessed a fire and explosion of this character.”

Mr. Miller explains the gas which formed, and caused the explosion. “The first thing a fireman does in answering a call is to see that air circulates throughout the house, as there is gas formed in the black smoke of a flame which is highly explosive and as soon as a back draft hits this gas, it is almost sure to explode.”

Damage to the house was estimated well over $5,000. It was partially covered by insurance.

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