Tom sighed as he flopped down into the soft warm hay in Timothy O’Brian’s stable. Closing his eyes, he raised his face and allowed the sun streaming in through the door to warm his cheeks. Even in mid-summer, the stiff breeze at the top of Long’s Hill would make a man shiver. He fumbled in his pocket and dug out his trusty old pipe. Lugging buckets up the hill to water the horses had completely worn him out. Tom glanced up as a shadow filled the doorway.
“Hey, Joe! How is ya doin’? Can you believe ‘ow ‘ard it is to git dese harses settled in? Dose fellers shoulda warned us when they decided to fix dose water mains. We coulda at least filled a barrel or two b’fore ‘and!”
Joe leaned against the doorpost. Tom’s complaints did not pause for a second as he prepared his pipe and fished in his other pocket for a match. Finding what he was looking for, Tom lit the pipe, carelessly shaking the match and tossing it over his shoulder. “B’y I’m tellin’ you, if I didn’t ‘ave me wife and five kids at ‘ome, I wouldn’t put up wit dis job. Just look at dat water over dere. Dat’s where I wants to be. In a fishin’ boat.” The Atlantic Ocean shone beckoningly in the distance.
Joe laughed as he turned to go out the door. “You’re sometin else, me son. Be glad you got a job now a days! I’m gittin back to work.”
Tom snorted as he settled back into the straw to rest for just a while longer.
Suddenly, Tom jumped up and sniffed the air. What was that smell? Fear jolted through his body. He searched the hay with frantic eyes. There, just beyond where he had been resting, smoke was just beginning to float lazily upwards.
Turning around in a craze, Tom knocked over the only bucket of water left in the stable.
“Jumpin’ dyin’s! Now what ‘ave I done?” Over his shoulder, he heard a crackling sound. He could not believe his eyes. In just seconds, the wind coming in the open door had blown over the little flame and caused it to spread and jump all over the bed of hay that Tom had just left.
“’Elp! Dere’s a fire in ‘ere. Somebody, ‘elp me! Joe! Where are ya?”
He saw Joe grab the rope on the alarm bell hanging in the tree across the stable yard and ring it as hard as he could. Tom whirled around. “Da ‘harses! By Jarge! Joe, ‘elp me git the animals out!”
Thick smoke billowed out the door of the stable as Tom and Joe fought their way in to rescue the horses. Terrified neighing and kicking led them through to the other side of the smoke. One by one, they led the frightened beasts to safety out the back door.
Within minutes, the wind had taken the fire through the roof of the stable and wisps of burning straw were flying into the tinder dry trees and bushes. Tom and Joe stood by the far corral staring in amazement as the flames spread like they were possessed. By the time the fire brigade arrived, the flames had spread to a nearby shed. They ran over to see if they could help, when somebody realized their dilemma. There was no water!
“Day ‘ooked up the water again dis morning down town. You ‘aven’t got water up ‘ere yet?” The leader of the fire brigade shook his head in disbelief. The hose they hooked up to the fire hydrant lay flat on the ground with only a trickle of water coming out the open end.
“The pressure mus’ not be built up enuf yet to git up de ‘ill. Wat about the water supply tank?” Joe yelled.
The momentary flicker of hope that crossed the leader’s face quickly turned to despair. “De guys emptied de tank last night when dey was practisin’ their ‘ose work! Of all de luck! Come on boys, we’ll do wat we can.” All their valiant efforts were futile as the fire flowed like water down the hill, lapping up the thirsty grass. The wind whipped sparks all over the nearby wooden houses. Tom slumped onto the ground in the clearing as he stared in disbelief at the chaos unfolding below him. A whimpered cry escaped his lips, “Oh God! ‘Ave mercy!”
By the end of the day, The Great Fire of 1892 had left over 11,000 people homeless in the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Most of the city was in ashes. As a result of this fire, new equipment was purchased and three new fire stations were built within the next two years, to give firefighters a fighting chance, and to ensure that a Great Fire such as this one would never occur again.
Resource Material: http://www.heritagefoundation.ca/docs/firehall.pdf
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