The Minute Book
Sunday, 30 November 2014

A Halifax Explosion Averted (1905)
Topic: Halifax

Halifax Threatened by Fire on George's Island

One of the Buildings of Fort Charlotte Burned But the Great Quantities of Explosives are Dumped Into the Harbour by Bluejackets and Soldiers

One of the military officers told your correspondent that had the magazine blown up not a whole pane of glass would have been left in Halifax.

St. John Daily Sun; 28 October 1905
(Special to the Sun)

Halifax, N.S., Oct 27.—One of the strongest and oldest forts which protect Halifax harbor is Fort Charlotte, on St. George's Island, its frowning embrasures facing the seaward, commanding the approaches. It is the centre of the submarine mining operations which are carried on extensively in the surrounding waters. In the oil department of the main store building on this island fore broke out this evening and for two hours the flames licked the building, devoured a great deal of valuable property, and threatened the submarine mines building. In this building was a vast quantity of submarine mine supplies, officially estimated as worth a quarter of a million dollars. Had the wind been a few points more to the eastward, this building could not have escaped, but as things turned out, it was not perceptibly damaged. The main store building, where the fire originated, and where it burned itself out, was completely destroyed. In this building, which formerly was a barracks, which was located beside the oil department, the carpenter shop, the general mechanical department, the cook house, and a large space devoted to stores. The light, inflammable material furnished just the kind of stuff for a rapid spread of the fire and the flames licked their way along so quickly that in a few minutes after discovery they were rising in red forks and great sheets through the roof.

At first the men on duty on George's Island thought they could fight the fire alone, but they saw the futility of this, and assistance from the fleet and mainland was asked by submarine telephone. There was indeed cause for genuine alarm, for in the burning building was a large quantity of dynamite and some powder. But before the fire reached the dynamite section, sailors from the second cruiser squadron and soldiers from the Wellington barracks, who had responded to the call for help, had dumped the explosive into the harbor, where it can be recovered by divers. The gun cotton, of which there was enough to shake Halifax, a half mile distant, had it exploded, was lying loose, in which condition it burned harmlessly as if but so much paper.

The fire fighting appliances on George's Island at the disposal of the military were meagre and primitive, consisting of several hand engines which produced a very feeble stream, but, such as they were the soldiers and sailors worked them with vim and made the most of them. The bucket brigade was almost as effective as the hand engine men, passing water up from the harbor saturating the dry grass and adjoining buildings. Stray lots of powder blew up, but the magazine was some distance away, underground, and the tremendous disaster that would have followed its ignition and explosion was never more than a remote possibility.

One of the military officers told your correspondent that had the magazine blown up not a whole pane of glass would have been left in Halifax. The chief loss is the mechanical stores, one of the heaviest items in this being an immense quantity of platinum for electrical purposes. The submarine wire cables were also destroyed. When the sky was most lurid with the reflections of the burning buildings and people were fearful that a terrible explosion might occur at any moment, the towboats with appliances responded to a call and the powerful streams that were directed by them were so effective that by 9.30 o'clock all danger of further spread of the flames was past. The origin of the fire is a mystery and no one on the island could offer any explanation of its cause.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST

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