Fire at the West Calder Oil Works, 1866

type: Safety - fires

The Glasgow Herald
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Fire at the West Calder Oil Works

A fire broke out on Wednesday morning in the West Calder Oil Works, managed by Mr. A. M. Fell. The fire was first observed about seven o'clock on Wednesday morning. It appears that the men, in order that a pressing demand for oil should be supplied, went to work at an earlier hour than usual. After operations had proceeded for some time, it was observed that a certain pump was not working properly, and one of the persons engaged in this department, noticing the defect, and fearing that the "well" might overflow, went into the refined oil store with a policeman's lamp to see that all was right. Almost immediately after this, and while this workman was standing on the premises, the oil in the tanks began to blaze, and the man was singed about the face by the flame. It is supposed that the vapour, or gas, arising from the oil at a certain temperature, had been ignited by the lantern, and hence the fire. It should be stated that, in the ordinary course of matters, no lamps are aloud near the vicinity of the oil, whatever light required being supplied – through the medium of reflectors – from lamps fixed at a considerable distance, out of the reach of any possibility of their causing danger or disaster.

At first the fire wore so alarming an aspect that it was feared the whole premises, covering nearly ten acres, would be destroyed. To have poured water upon the building would simply have added "fuel to the flame," and it was found that the French patent extinguisher upon the place took too long a time to "charge" to be of much use in such an extreme emergency. Fortunately, there was a large number of the workpeople at hand, and through their strenuous, and in some cases daring, exertions in throwing sand and pouring sulphuric acid upon the burning liquid, they managed to confine the fire to the house in which it first broke out, and the flames were completely subdued by eleven o'clock in the afternoon.

Underneath one of the store tanks was chained a fine watch dog belonging to Mr. Fell, who happened to be at Glasgow on Wednesday, and in endeavouring to save the animal, one of the principal workmen, noticing that the tap allow the flow of oil from a large tubular tank was shut, immediately turned it so as to admit of the oil running off. Had he not done so, in all probability the boiler or tank would have exploded and carried the flames into the other parts of the work. He was not, however, successful in saving the poor dog (the fire being too hot), which was burned to death. This, however, was, we are happy to say, the only casualty. Had it not been that every precaution has been taken by the proprietors first to guard against fire, and, in the event of its breaking out, to prevent its spread beyond the locality in which it first appeared – all communication being shut off by fire-proof walls and doors between one department and another – the chances are that the loss would have been very serious. As it is, about 7000 gallons of oil were consumed, the store house, roof and walls, were reduced to a shapeless mass, and the iron tanks have suffered much from the calamity. The damage cannot yet be accurately ascertained, but it is estimated at about from £1500 to £2000. We understand it is covered by insurance.

Glasgow Herald, 3rd February 1866, reprinted from the Scotsman