Thursday, January 28, 2010

Benge & Pratt Store Fire and Explosion, 28 March 1914, Upper Hutt #4

The scene of the Benge & Pratt store explosion the day after. J A Hazelwood's store can be seen in the background, the photo was most likely taken from the balcony of the Provincial Hotel. Two white crosses are shown in the photo to mark where the body of Mr Flynn, railway guard, was found on the footpath and that of Constable Mahoney in the interior of the building just above the sheets of galvanised iron. Click on image for larger view. Note that the 1910s marked the very early use of photographs in newspaper editions and the quality of the reproduction suffers.  Evening Post, 30 March 1914, p. 7.

Speculation quickly turned to causes of the fire and subsequent explosion. The most favoured initial suggestion as to cause of the explosion was an acetylene gas leak from the lighting system used in the store. 

Carbon deposits on charred timbers were said to be hallmarks of a gas explosion, but the store owners reported they had turned off the gas when locking up for the evening and no one had reported smelling gas either at the outset of the fire or during the recovery effort inside the store during the fire. 

Certainly, it was said, if there had been any hint of gas, the helpers would have stayed out of the store when no life was otherwise at risk from the fire.

As to the cause of the fire preceding the explosion, it was said to be a mystery.

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