Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Deadly Inferno

Oct. 26, 1907
Los Angeles

Two women in the West Adams District were badly burned and expected to die after a bowl of gasoline they were using to clean a soiled dress exploded, engulfing their apartment at 42 St. James Park in flames.

Mrs. James P. Burns (identified helpfully by The Times as the wife of James P. Burns) and maid Catherine Blake had spread a dress across a table and wrapped their hands with rags soaked in gasoline to clean it. Because the electric lights weren’t bright enough, Burns told Blake to light several candles. The candles ignited the bowl of gas, which in turn set off a nearby tank of gasoline.

With her clothes on fire, Blake ran to the rear porch of the second-story apartment and jumped to the ground while Burns fled to a hallway. The building manager ran to the second floor upon hearing the explosion and wrapped Burns in a rug to extinguish the flames.

“Nearly all of her hair had been burned off and only a few charred garments remained about her badly burned body,” The Times said of Burns. “Examination by surgeons disclosed a pitiable condition. They expressed little hope of her recovery.”

In the meantime, neighbors got a blanket and rolled Blake on the grass to put out the fire. “Miss Blake was burned about the face, breast, arms and legs,” The Times said. “In some places the flesh fell away. She fainted several times before reaching the hospital.”

Bad streets hampered the Fire Department’s response to the blaze. The Lawrence Apartments, where the blaze occurred, suffered $10,000 ($205,235.70 USD 2005) in damage while the adjoining Mayfair Apartments suffered $3,000 damage, mostly from water.

Burns died the next day, having been put under anesthetic to allay her pain. There was no further word on Blake.

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