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Local History

Fire Trap!

  It Was A Fire Trap
Springfield Leader Democrat, November 19, 1896, page 3.

"At 9 o’clock this morning there was a fire on Olive Street which created more excitement than any which has occurred in Springfield for many months.  It was in the old Steigner Hotel, at the corner of Olive Street and Patton Alley, and that old landmark was completely ruined, though not entirely burned to the ground.
"Much excitement was caused among the spectators by the narrow escape of Adam Rief of Pittsburg, Pa., an old man, who came very near being roasted alive, and also by the general belief that there were others in the house who had failed to escape.
"The cause of the fire is unknown. When it was first discovered the flames had completely enveloped an old shed kitchen in the rear on the north.  A strong wind was blowing from the north and in a moment more the main structure was on fire.  Someone notified fire department No. 1 by telephone and a few seconds later an alarm was turned in from the public square.  In less than two minutes after the alarm was sounded the hose cart and ladder wagon were at the fire.
"The old frame structure was a perfect fire-trap and the fire spread over it with great rapidity.  Just at the arrival of the fire apparatus an old man was observed at one of the windows on the alley.  The smoke in the room was very dense and fire was sweeping past the window.  The crowd below at once [knew] that the old man was in danger of being burned alive.  No ladder was at hand at that instant and shouts went up for him to break the window and jump.  When the old man left the window and pushed back into the room there was a shudder of horror among the spectators, for he seemed to step back into the flames.  He was gone but a few seconds, however, until his face again appeared at the window, blackened by smoke and soot, and he appeared to be almost fainting.  He finally managed to shatter the old window and put out one leg.  Then he sat on the window sill, apparently afraid to jump.  The flames lapped around him furiously and the crowd frantically called to him to jump out.  Finally he climbed out farther and loosened his hold.  Two strong men were under him and prevented him from striking the ground hard.  He was carried to Dr. Teffts’s office and his wounds were dressed.  He had a badly lacerated wrist and his nose was considerably burned.  He gave his name as Adam Rief of Pittsburg, Pa, and said he had been peddling paper files here for several days.
"It took an hour of very hard fighting for the fire boys to conquer the flames in the old building.  The fire in the beginning got to the attic and from there it spread to all parts of the house.  The second story was cut up into very small rooms, several of them having no windows, and when the fire got into them it was well-nigh impossible to reach it with a stream of water.  Three lines of hose were soon at work, but water seemed to have little effect on the old structure.  Excitement in the crowd grew on account of a wild report that a woman had been seen at a second story window and had fallen back into the flames.  This story was generally credited until the firemen had sufficiently subdued the flames to visit all of the rooms.  It was after 10 o’clock before this could be done.  By 10:30 the fire was out and it was definitely known that no one had perished.
"“The old building, which is sometimes called the Planters’ House, belonged to George Steigner, and was not insured, as it was too much of a risk for the Insurance companies.  It was one of the oldest buildings in Springfield, and was years ago the Baker block of the town.  Many of the older lawyers of the city formerly had offices there, and until a few years ago it was used as an office building.  It was originally twice its present size, and one part of it was torn away to give place to a brick building.  The building was erected in 1867 by Gabe Freeman for a boarding house and has been used for various purposes since that time.  Recently it has been run by George Steigner as a cheap restaurant and lodging house for whites and blacks.
"Adam Rief, the old man who so narrowly escaped, said after his wounds had been dressed that he was asleep when the fire started.  He was awakened by the noise outside, but thought it was perhaps caused by a fight or something of the kind.  He heard no one cry fire and did not get up.  There was no smoke in his room.  Finally the confusion outside became so great he got up and opened the door to the stairway.  When he did so the flames burst in upon him so that he was almost suffocated in a second.  He then ran to the window to jump out, but concluded he would have time to put on his clothing.  He went back to get them and came near being suffocated by the smoke.  He hardly realized his danger while putting on his pantaloons until he nearly fainted while trying to break open the window.  His face and eyes were so badly scorched that he could not see whether it was safe to jump or not when he got to the window.  He thought there seemed to be more fire on the outside than in the room, but he heard the cries to jump and did so without knowing where he would land.  He was left penniless and without clothing."

The above image is Springfield Fire Station number one.

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