Narrow escape of a village, 1894

type: Safety - fires

The Evening Telegraph
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Narrow Escape of Village

Damage £10,000

One of the most dangerous fires in the history of the Scottish mineral oil trade broke out at the works of the Oakbank Mineral Oil Company at noon yesterday. The works, which have been established for nearly 30 years, occupy a considerable area, and are situated in close proximity to the village of Oakbank, and about a mile and a half from Mid-Calder.

The outbreak occurred in the despatch department, where the barrels of oil are loaded into wagons, and was caused by a spark from one of the works' locomotives. In a minute the shed, which has a frontage of about 300 yards, was wrapped in a mass of flames. One of the workmen blew the works' horn to alarm the firemen. The works possess a well-equipped fire brigade, and under the superintendence of Mr Reid, manager, they were soon at work trying to extinguish the flames.

The fire, however, had now got a good hold, and the Edinburgh Fire Brigade was telegraphed to. In a few minutes the heat became so intense that the locomotive sheds, which are situated on the opposite side of the railway from the despatch department, caught fire, and as the firemen were now in great danger, being placed between two fires, they were forced to beat a retreat, one of the hose-pipes being burned through.

After the woodwork of the despatch department had been burned down, the fire spread eastwards, and here several tanks of oil, from which the barrels are filled, caught fire. Some barrels were full, while others were about half full. After these caught fire all hope of saving the adjoining departments was abandoned. About 300 barrels of valuable lubricating oil were lying near, and as no effort could be made to save them they were completely destroyed.

A strong wind kept the fire spreading, and the next department to fall a prey was the settling tanks. The bleaching houses and lubricating department were also speedily reduced to ashes. The entire cooperage department, including the sheds in which the casks are glued and painted, caught fire, and soon shared the fate of the other buildings. Within two hours from the time they were telegraphed for the Edinburgh Fire Brigade arrived on the scene, and at once set to work in a most effectual manner. It was feared that the large stock tanks – seven in number – some of which hold 100,000 gallons of oil, and which are situated only a few yards from where the conflagration was raging, would catch fire.

A large brick wall, about 30 feet high, however, erected to shield them some time ago, acted as a barrier to the flames. For a considerable time the flames played alongside the wall, and created the greatest alarm among the officials, for had the stock tanks caught fire the village, which is only distant a few yards, must also have fallen a prey to the flames, and 200 families would have been rendered homeless. Just at this juncture the wind, which had hitherto been blowing from the south, fortunately began to veer round to the west, and turned the flames from the stock tanks away to the east. The flames spread rapidly to three large bings of barrels, containing about 20,000 empty barrels. In a short time these were ablaze, and, with the exception of about 1000, which the women from the rows gallantly saved, the whole mass of barrels were completely destroyed.

About 7 p.m. the fire was under control. The officials could give little idea of the actual damage done, but it is estimated at from £8000 to £10,000. The loss is covered by insurance.

The Evening Telegraph, 25th June 1894