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THE SILVER GRID FIRE.

TRAGIC SCENES WITNESSED

THREE PEOPLE DEADNINE INJURED. ORIGIN A MYSTERY Tragic scenes wore witnessed at tieSilver Grid fire iu Manchester street early yesterday morning, a brief account of which was given in yesterday's "Press," Three persons lost their lives as a result of tho fire, and nine others mot with injury, two of them being still in a critical state, while tho condition of another is stated to bo very serious. Tho dead were conveyed to the Christchurch Hospital morgue, and the injured to tho Hospital, where they are now undergoing treatment, Tho casualty list is as follows:— THE DEAD. Thomas David Smith, aged 46, mai% ried, employed by Skelton, Pros- : tick and Co., Ltd., for about 14 years as a finisher; horribly burned. Elsie Stack, a married woman, aged 23, employed at tho Silver Grid as a housemaid; badly burned. P. "\V. Hatch, a compositor, about 65 years of ago, married; work- ■' ed in various printing offices in city, but only engaged intermit- ■ tently during past twelvo months; suffocated. THE INJURED. Condition Critical. Mrs J. P. Smith, wife of proprietor, severe burns, badly out-, and suf- ) fering from shock. Condition Serious.

Ted Gledhill, aged 23, severe badly cut and suffering frotn | shock. He was until Saturday! employed at the United Service) Hotel as a kitchen hand. His) people are stated to reside at No. 1 19 Clyde avenue, MorningtonJ Dunedin. j Henry Herbert Beore, age 45, severe barns on face and body. A ralaJ tive is J. Beero, Gedlqy's StobleaJ Afihburton. J Other Ctaes. | William Vincent, age 35, a smgfo man, a labourer by slight burns. David Moore Arthur, age 66, a sales* man; severe burns. \ George William Spicer, age 68 years,, a widowcr ? a labourer by occupation, coming from Kaikoura* slight burns. William Leeney, ago 50, a shearer,, his nearest relative being Misa E. Leeney, Waimate; severely: I cut about; the legs. George O'Sullivan, aged 26; severely burned and cut on neck. He is a single man, in the employ of! the Atlas Confectionery Company, Ltd., as a confectioner.] Ho "had been residing at the Sil-( ver Grid for about five months,! and is a Christchurch man. A| . brother's address is given, caref of Mrs Wittio, Clyde road,. Rio 4 carton. ! Out-pationt. John Percival Smith, the piropristoiW severe cuts on hands and side of body. THE SILVER GBID. The Silver Grid, which is rittrateS' 8&' 117 Manchester street between Taamj and St. Asaph streets, is a woll-knowttj boarding-house and restaurant* _ lil came in for some notoriety about eights or nino years ago, being the scene ofl the murder by a jealous admirer of aJ young girl employed at tho ment. It is a brick building twn storeys high, with kitchen, restanxaatj and shop on tho ground floor, anftj eighteen rooms, mostly bodrooms, cn| the top floor. A small shop at tho( southern end of tho ground floor ifl occupied by A. D. Smith, booksellarJ Tlie building is owned by L. E. Na-^. than's trust estate, and the tenant was| John Pcrcival Smith. The buildings is contiguous to other places, and a glass verandah runs along its front., This verandah was tho cause of many of tho injuries. Along the top of tliis verandah runs a narrow footway, or bridge; at the back of the building facing the side of the Opera Housa aro two fire escapos. GIVING THE ALARM. Nobody appears to have seen tha, outbreak until it had secured a firm hedd and the flames were leaping right across tho street. It iB believed that the first alarm was given by the nighV portor of tho People's Palace on thft opposite sido of the street, about a chain further south. Ho was commencing to dust tho mats and polish tho linoleum when, upon opening the stroot door, ho saw the flames. Ha had some difficulty, however, in locating a firo alarm, not thinking of a talephone, and by the timo he had pressed the button the outbreak had been observed by tho constable on the beat, who liad been some distance away. The alarm was received at the central firo station at 2.35©a.m. ; and Superintendent Warner immediately hurried to the scene with three motors and the whole of tlie station staff. '

Mr D. J. Kelleher. licensee of the Wellington Hotel, in Tuam street, near by, claims to havo discovered the fire at 2.20 a.m. Ho says that from 2.20 a.m. till 2.35 a.m. ho tried to got the central telephone exchange in order to communicate with tho fire brigade, but failed to receive an answer.

A TRAGIC SCENE.

Tragic incidents were witnessed when the inmates of the Silver Grid were awakened to their peril. Screams and groans rent the air while the flames crackled and volumes of smoke swirled along. There were twenty-six persons sleeping on the premises, all on tno upper floor. The only staircase, a narrow wooden structure, was burning fiercely, and the means of escape to the bottom floor was cut off. Only two avenues remained, a couple of iron fire escapes at the bark ana the nar« iow planking on the verandah. ThoM who sought the rear were lucky, but those who made for the front of the building were to encounter trials and tribulations that were heart-rending. Between the front windows and the verandah was a balcony, and the draught enticed the flames through this, making it a veritable death-trap. Many of those seeking to escape from the front of the building apparently lost their heads and crashed through the glass of the verandah, receiving in some cases very severe injuries. The panes in the verandah were threecornered, and tho putty, becoming melted, the panes shot up and presented the appearance of shark's teeth. Several of the inmates ran along uw wooden bridge seeking to gain admis-. sion through the windows of tho ad J joining building, but without # availFear spurred them on, and, leaving tw comparatively safe wooden bridge, the/

•»- 1.. stepped on to the glass verandah and crashed through. A SHAMBLES. Several of the injured were taken 'to the People's Palace, where they leceived first-aid. and quite easily, hours after the fire had been subdued, there OOUld be seen a bloody trail. "I have upon some pitiable sights in my time," »aid Adjutant Inwood, officer in charge of the People's Palace, to a "Press" representative, ••luit nothing to compare with this. My place was like a shamble.-.'' Spectators state that the scene defied description. People with their night attire burnt troiu tiieir backs, •their br>dies covered with blood, screaming with the horror of their awful experience, staggered from the liolocaubt. One man went mnd with terror, and his ear-splitting cries weve terrible to hear. Adjutant Inwood and his stair worked strenuously and devotedly to relieve the sufferings rf the afliicted liniil they were able to be conveyed to the hospital, a newspaper runner with his motor-cycle and sidechair performing this service until the ambulance could be secured.

Itound in Tuain street, Mr D. J. Kolleher, licensee of the Wellington Hotel, was playing the part of the good Sumarituu to tho unfortunates who escaped Hum tho rear purt of tho building. These he took into his hotel and provided them with accommodation and clothing. Mr Kcllehor also actively assisted in attending to tho injured. FIRE BRIGADE'S EFFORTS. Leaving tiieir headquarters, the Firo Brigadesuien could not see a sign of firo till they turned into Manenoster street, and then they observed the flames jumping out feet from the front of tno building. The Brigade immediately placed two leads of nose in Manchester street, and two others in tho rear. "Tho place was burning fiercely,'' sliid Superintendent Warner to a reporter, "and it was impossible to penetrate it until wo got tho hose on. We got in as soon as possiblo, as wo knew that thcro were some people jnsido." Thero was an amplo supply of water, and tho firemen and civilians assisting them worked strenuously and enthusiastically. They saved tho adjoining buildings, the contents of which, however, suffered from tho water poured on them. THE BODIES OF THE DEAD. Tho bodies of tho dead were discovered upstairs. Superintendent Warner found Mrs Stack in her room, and carlied her out, but discovered that lifo had fled. Ho and his men went back into the building, and brought out four more persons, two living and two dead. Hatch is stated to have been fully drcßsed. even to hut and tie. His appearance gave tho impression that ho was suffocated. He was found in _ ti email room with only ono door loading on to a passage, and no window. Apart from the door tho only means of escape would havo been by a skylight ten feet high. lie was lying huddled up in tho corner near tho door with a pillow -under his head. Smith's bodv was found lying across tho framework of a Bkylight giving light to the diningroom. Tho skylight was at tho bottom of a well, •whore tho firo had burned most fiorcely. Tho well .was on the jiorthern sido of tho building alongside a dividing brick wall. Two small rooms had windows opening on to tho well, and from another side of it a passage led to one of the rear firo escapes. Smith apparently had escaped from a window and groped his way towards this passage, but had boon overcome on tho skylight, as his body was found huddled un near the wall where ho might havo Icon forced back by flames and smoke. Mrs Stack was badly burned about parts of tho body, ?tat her face had escaped disfigurement. Smith had bocn burned to death, and his body was almost unrecognisable. A TERRIBLE EXPERIENCE. "It was tho most terrible cxporienco 1 hare ever gone through," declared Superintendent Warner to a "Press" representative,- and this sentiment was o&ood by soveral of his men, who all hope fervently to never have to repeat it. The Superintendent said he found it almost impossible to got tho sight of tho poor burned bodies out of his mind. PROPRIETOR'S STORY.

Mr J. P. Smith, lessee of tho Silver Grid, was sleeping in a double room in the front of tno premises when ho was awakened by a crash of glass, which lie thought was the main window downstairs. Itushing to tho door he opened it and encountered a great volume of smoke. Arousing* his wife, ho immediately rnshed to tho adjoining room, where ware sleeping his sistor-in-law, Miss S. Joyce, and Mtb Stack, and rouging them, told them to follow him, iatondiog to oscapo by the window opening on to tho narrow balcony with its brick balustrade. Ho jumped an to the balcony, but tho flames drovo him back. At that moment ho saw his wife jump out on to the verandah and Toll off on to the ground. Mrs Stack had followed Smith on to tho balcony, .but apparently tho flames drove her bock, and sho re-entered Tier room, whore sho was found later, suffocated, by Superintendent "Warner. In the meanwhile Smith had gono to tho second window of his bedroom, whero lie found tho flamos and smoke not so in- ; • sufferable. Catching hold of ono another, ho and Miss Joyco comrooncod to clamber over the balcony when Smith slippod, and shot through the glass, cutting his wrist and hand. Ho was able to hang on to the iron framework, howevor, and Miss Joyce assistod him back, and they staggered along to a window over an adjoining shop. The window luckily was unlatched, and they were'enabled to open it and escape. THE INSURANCES. • The Silver Grid building, which was erected early in 1905 at a cost of over £8000, was insured for £1500 in the Union Assurance Society. Mr J. P. ■ Smith's fittings, stock, and furniture were insured for £260 in the Phoenix office, but .he states that this is only about half their value. He had about £40 wdrth of cigarette stock and £6 or £7 worth of soft drinks. The fittings and stock of books of Mr A. D. Smith in the shop adjoining, much of which was damaged by water, were insured for £200 in tlib Alliance office. VERANDAHS A DANGER. The Silver Grid fire draws attention to the serious menace glass verandahs ore in cases of fire. Tho narrow footway on top of the verandah was totally inadequate for its purpose, and the verandah proved not only a fatal lore to tho distressed people seeking safety, but the falling glass was exceedingly dangerous to the fire-fighters and onlookers in the street below. Iron w steel verandahs would be littlo better, for the flames heat them, and there have been some distressing cases of people being roasted to death through essaying to escape by walking along them. Stringent regulations, it is urged by responsible people, should be introduced to prevent verandahs being erected along boarding-houses and hotels. There should be a law to enforce the erection of an iron railing running around every storey of such buildings, with iron ladders to the ground. Furthermore, it is urged the la,v should enforce the establishment of automatic fire alarms m these buildings. A MYSTERIOUS ORIGIN. The origin of the fire is unknown, pie lessee states that before retiring to rest on Sunday evening, at about nudnight, he inspected the place and found everything all right. It is stated, however, by one or two of the boarders that shortly before they were aroused by the. flames they were disturbed by a mysterious explosion. There have been several fires in the JJominion of late, many of which have been unaccounted for, and it is claimed bymanv people that these fires have been caused by Gorman spies or memSi/ of the I.W.W. Whether this be ■■

so or not it is stated that it has been discovered in Australia that members of the I.W.W. use a liquid chemical for carrying out their nefarious work, and that this ignites as the result of an explosion.

NOTES AND INCIDENTS

Five of the people escaping from the Silver Grid were able to crcep along the footway on the verandah until they reached the upstairs windows of the premises of Mr and Mrs T. Dodd. and were nssistcd through to safety. One man, however, was in such a frenzy that he would not stop, but, pushing on, stopped on to tho glass and crashed througli to the ground. The scene of the fire was viewed with curiosity by hundreds of people yesterday. The brick walls did not appear to be greatly damaged, but inside was a scone of desolation, though the pots in the kitchen and other utensils remained serene tipon their platters. Luckily the rafters in the building were very .substantial, being about 10 inches by inches, and though charred by tiie flames, they did not collapso, and thus they held up the floors. Later in the dav the front of the building was boarded up. So fierce were the flames tJiat they even blistered the paint on the fire engines.

The proprietor's register was discovered in the building yesterday. It showed that there were twenty-two boarders booked up, though one of these is believed not to hove slept on the premises. In addition there were Mr and Mrs Smith, Miss Joyce, and Mrs Stack.

There was very little fire at the back of tho building. If the flames had properly got to the rear tho fire escapes would have been cut off, and thp fatalities would have been larger. It was the fact of one man discovering the absence of flanio in the rear, though the smoke was denser, that enabled so many to escapo that way. Two attempts besides those of the Fire Bridagesmen were made to save Mrs Stackr J. O'Keefe, a returned soldier, after escaping from the building, attempted to rush back wlien he heard of Mrs Stack's peril, but was pulled back by another man, who saiu it was madness to make the effort. A constable, whose identity has not been disclosed, also tried to rush through tho flames, pulling off his coat, but was forced to desist. Mrs Stack loaves two young children, aged three years and twelvemonths, to mourn their less. Her people are believed to live in Southland. At one stage it appeared as if Messrs Fuller might suffer the doublo misfortune of losing the Opera House as well as His Majesty's Theatre by firo, for one or two of the eaves of the theatre Building caught fire, but the flames were subdued before they could become dangerous. THE INQUEST. BODIES IDENTIFIED. The inquest on the bodies of tho three viotims of the fire was opened by the Coroner (Mr T. A. B. Bailey) yostorday afternoon. Senior-Sergeant Wohiman appeared >/or the polico. John Percival Smith, proprietor of the Silver Grid said Mrs Stack was employed by him at the place as a housemaid. Tho other deceased were boarders. Thomas 3>avid Smith was no relation of his. He identified two of tho bodies in the morgue as those of Mrs Stack and Hatch. Smith occupied room No 10, just at the top of the stairs. Witness did not see him on Sunday night. Witness had not scon him since Saturday night. All boarders' names •were placed in the register every night. Henry Ernest Smith, ironmoulder, 17 Hanov.or street, Sydenham, said ho was practically certain that one of the bodies in tho morgue was that of his brother, Thomas David Smith. There were no marks on the body t<> identify him by. Witness spent tho evening with deceased the previous day with a niece (Mrs Wiltshire). Witness accompanied him part of the way to the Silver Grid, where deceased was lodging, and the last he saw of him was at 20 minutes to 11 o'clock on Sunday night. Deceased -was perfectly sober. He had had no drink at all. He sufferod from deafness, and his eyesight -was so bad that he could not distinguish tho marks on the cards during a game of euchro on Sunday night. Ho was 46 years of ago.

Louisa Jaiio Smith, wifa of Thomas David Smith, said lie had been living nt the Silver Grid in order to he near his work. She had seen the hody in the morgue, b\it could not identify it, except that she recognised a mark on tlio chest and the fact that a certain tooth in the body in the morgue was broken tho samo as one possessed by her husband. She was almost certain that tho body was that of her husband. In reply to the Coroner, Senior-Ser-geant Wohlman said there -was nothing fotrnd on the body except the charred trace of a singlot. The Coroner suggested that there should be a search in tho debris for a watch or some other evidence of identity, nnd this Sergeant Wohlman promised to liavo dono. Mrs Smith said she heard 1 that deceased had some money with him, but the Coroner pointed out that if he had it would probably be in notes, and these would be destroyed. The inquest was then adjourned till next Tuesday at 11 a.m.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/CHP19171120.2.51

Bibliographic details

Press, Press, Volume LIII, Issue 16063, 20 November 1917

Word Count
3,190

THE SILVER GRID FIRE. Press, Volume LIII, Issue 16063, 20 November 1917

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