Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire, 28 March 1914. Upper Hutt #2

Evening Post Headline, 30 March 1914, p. 7

By the time Constable Mahoney arrived back at the scene of the fire with Messrs. Benge & Pratt, a group had gathered outside the grocery & drapery store and steps were taken immediately to begin retrieving merchandise and other property from the premises. 

A group of a dozen or so railway employees had come down from the Upper Hutt station where the late train from Wellington had arrived a short time earlier. The postmaster, Mr James Comesky, had hurried across the street from the Post Office to render assistance. Soon, some 30 or so men were hurrying in and out of the store as part of the effort to rescue as much stock as possible before flames completely engulfed the building.

The business' books and the safe were removed and Messrs Pratt and Benge worked with others to remove items from the bake house at the rear of the premises. The postmaster set about pulling a telephone off the wall in a zealous effort to save government property that ultimately cost him his life.

Although it was a calm, warm night so that no winds fanned the flames, the absence of a fire brigade in Upper Hutt meant that fire fighting measures were minimal. 

A high pressure water supply had recently been installed in the town, but the only fire fighting equipment consisted of a hydrant and the town hose, of some 150 feet, that was locked up on the Town Board's premises. Valuable time was lost breaking open a gate to get at the hose. 

Meantime, the operation of removing stock proceeded without any fire fighting apparatus to speak of, a couple of garden hoses ineffectually being used to try to retard the fire's spread to neighbouring buildings.

At approximately 12:10 am, some 30 minutes after the fire was first observed, a massive explosion decimated the building and those inside engaged in the rescue operation.

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