11["Carnarvon Hotel", The Northern Times (Carnarvon, WA), Saturday 31 May 1913, page 4]





For the first time in the history of Carnarvon, a big fire occurred here early on Tuesday morning, by which one of the oldest buildings in this town was completely destroyed. On Monday night, the final arrangements for transferring the Carnarvon Hotel to Mr. Robert. McAllister, who for some years was licensee of the Port Motel, were completed, and the appraisers finished their work soon after midnight. About two hours later the building was found to be ablaze, and in an incredibly short space of time the hotel was a mass of flame from end to end. No time was lost in informing the boarders of their danger, and two of these narrowly escaped into the open ahead of the flames. Mr. John Murphy, the retiring manager, had his feet badly scorched and was conveyed to the hospital.

Mr. McAllister's Account.

Mr. Robert McAllister, on being seen by our representative, said the fire was a most unfortunate calamity for him. Not only were his almost completed business arrangements upset, but he had lost practically all his private belongings and all his private papers and account books.

Worst of all, he had lost his two dogs, which he would not have parted with for any money. His wife and he retired for the night about 12.30 a.m., after he had turned out all the lights and locked the doors. Everything was quite right then. Some time between two and three o'clock he was awakened by his wife, who said the hotel was on fire. They found the passage full of smoke and flame, so got out on to the verandah. He hurriedly removed the chick-blinds and other obstructions so as to make their escape safe, and endeavored to return for clothing and other things left in the room. This, however, had become quite impossible. Next he endeavored to get into the building by the door, but it was locked, and ultimately had to be broken down. At this time the whole Olivia-terrace front of the hotel was well alight. A very light breeze was blowing from the east, but nevertheless the flamed worked back and it was no time before every part of the structure was burning. He was very upset at the time and didn't notice who were the people who worked so hard getting things out of the buildings, but whoever they were they deserved a lot of praise and some substantial recognition.

A Narrow Escape.

Mr. Albert Kidd, of the firm Kidd and Marie, has been a boarder at the hotel since coming to Carnarvon. He occupied the first room at the dining-room end of the building. Returning home from the council meeting on Monday night he retired to bed soon after 11 o'clock. He always slept with his bed drawn into the draught between the door and window, and must have been inhaling the smoke some time before he was awakened by Mrs. Corbett. That lady, in spite of the danger, remained at his window calling him, and finding that he was too soundly asleep leaned through the window and shook him. He immediately jumped up and found the flames were already leaping into his room from the passage. He grabbed his empty portmanteau (his clothes being in the chest of drawers) and put it through the window. Turning back to get his suit, watch, and money, the flames singed his hair, and he deemed it expedient to beat a hasty retreat, and climbed through the window. The fire seemed then to be fiercest in the middle of the residential portion, but it seemed only & few iminutes before the whole place was a furnace. Mr. Kidd has no theory of the origin of the fire, but is confident that it was quite accidental. Everyone lost all his or her personal belongings, the little things of no intrinsic value except to the owner for their associations. There was always a strong current of air through the passage, and it is possible that a pipe placed in a coat hanging at the windward end would be sufficient to start the fire. Whatever the origin, Mr, Kidd has had his fill of fire and doesn't want any more narrow escapes.

Eye-Witness' Account.

A well-known resident, on being questioned by us, said: "I was awakened from early slumber by a bright light showing in the sky, and could easily perceive that something unusual was happening. At first glance it appeared as if a huge volcano was in eruption, but on closer examination it was found the Carnarvon Hotel was in flames. As one of the early arrivals on the scene, I can say the sight was magnificent, the various colors thrown out by the burning iron and matchwood creating a beautiful effect. A band of willing volunteers was soon at work removing whatever could be got out without danger, as the heat by this time was terrific, and only the back portion and bulk store could be worked with safety. The latter was well manned with workers, and it was amazing to see the readiness and agility with which casks and cases were removed to safety. With prompt despatch, furniture and effects were piled up in Baston-street close to the municipal stables. While the bulk of the liquor was stored in the back yard, a fair quantity found its way onto the foreshore, where it was promptly buried, with a view to future reclamation. An enormous quantity of rats was destroyed in the two large trees in the courtyard. These could be seen working their way out on the branches until, overcome by the heat, they fell into the flames. This must have gladdened the hearts of our local health board as they certainly saved the bonus which is now being offered. A couple of dogs enjoyed themselves catching the strays which endeavored to escape, greatly to the amusement of the large crowd that had collected by this time. Some of the dressings of the latter were grotesque, the majority being in deshabille. The fire burnt very fiercely for about two hours until the roof fell in, and things calmed down, when the crowd started to wend their ways homeward. The sight was one long to be remembered by those fortunate enough to see it. It was surprising to hear next morning the number of people who had missed it, and speaks well for the orderly manner in which those present behaved, as no disturbance of any sort occurred, which, taking into consideration the quantity of liquor that was lying about, speaks well for the supervision of the police, who, headed by Sergt. O'Halloran, were indefatigable in their efforts to save property.

Another Graphic Description.

We obtained the following account from another resident who was early on the scene: It was about half-past two wnen I was awakened by the crackling of burning timber. It was a weird sound, and I thought the rain had some and rejoiced to think that the drought was breaking up. The noise increasing, I got up. The night was fresh, and a breeze was gently blowing out to sea, the only disturbing element being the fierce fire raging at the hotel. I hastily dressed and hurried to the scene to find what I could do in saving live or protecting property. The fiend travelled so rapidly that it was soon evident that the building and its contents were doomed. The door opening into Baston-street was burst open by the aid of a huge log, and the windows were smashed in the effort to rescue the belongings of the unfortunate boarders, but without success. The crowds gathered from all quarters. One man came up in breathless excitement, evidently having run some distance. He asked with a gasp, "Where's the fire brigade?" One of the early arrivals quietly reminded him that it had gone to Perth. After standing about for some time one was inclined to walk out to the hills and watch the fire from a distance. It was a grand sight: the flames, as if playing leapfrog, leapt into the darkness, the air was filled with flying sparks resembling somewhat a spring snowstorm, the whole neighborhood was brightly lit up, and the reflection in the water seemed like a gigantic red ball. About 4 o'clock the fire was almost spent, and the people, after expressing sympathy by doing all they could to help those who had lost all they had, gradually dispersed. I got home to coffee and bed.

Safe's Contents Burnt.

After the fire had burnt itself out, the office safe was found to be open, and all the books a charred mass. We understand that when the outbreak occurred Mr. Murphy, the outgoing manager, hurried ot the safe to take out the money, but the fire spread so rapidly that he had to withdraw precipitately, without having time to close the safe again, and was so severely scorched in escaping that he had to be conveyed to the hospital for treatment.

The Fire Brigade.

The occurrence of our first big fire has turned the attention of residents to the need for a fire brigade. It will be remembered that about three years ago Mr. L. Logie organised a local fire brigade, and by his representations a manual engine, reel, and other fire-fighting implements were obtained from Perth. Unfortunately, the state of municipal finances prevented the laying of a large main, and dissensions within the brigade also prevented sufficient organisation to keep up the interest of members, with the result that the brigade gradually fell to pieces. It is said that there was no turn-out of the brigade after November 1911. Meanwhile the municipal council was paying 51 odd annually for the privilege of holding this obsolete and unused brigade plant. In February of this year representations to the Government to exempt the council from the payment of the contribution were successful, and the exemption was gazetted.

Soon after, Superintendent Lapsley, of the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board, wrote to the council asking for the return of the plant. This request was complied with, and about a month ago it was shipped south, it is regrettable that the manual was not available, as the hotel fronting the river, water could have been drawn direct, and volunteers would have been found in plenty to keep a strong stream playing on the windward end of the hotel. On the other hand, many onlookers declare that the manual would have been absolutely useless to check the fire, as it spread so rapidly that even the Perth brigades would have found it impossible to save any portion. Still, whether any could have been saved or not is beside the question that no brigade existed to attempt fire-fighting is a reflection on the town, and a grave menace. It is serious to contemplate the loss of property and probably life that would occur if a fire started on the west end of either of our chief business blocks with the prevailing strong wind blowing and no strong adequate supply of water and no trained fire-fighters. The position must be faced and the brigade restarted and re-fitted at any cost.

A Link With the Past.

The first portion of the Carnarvon Hotel, a few rooms at the corner of Olivia-terrace and Baston-street, was built in 1884 for Mr. J. E. Townsend, who ran it for about three or four years. Later the brick billiard room was added, and afterward various extensions were made along Baston street. The licensees following Mr. Townsend were: Messrs. A. Morgan, Burrows, Hill, W. C. Smith, Pincombe, Hearn, and Murphy. Captain Pincombe purchased the hotel during his regime from Messrs. Tolley and Company, and effected quite a number of improvements. An enquiry into the cause of the fire will be held on Wednesday next.