NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - 104

BEACH BLAZE

THE 1922 ARVERNE CONFLAGRATION
By Caitlin Walker
t was a warm, sunny afternoon
on June 15, 1922, in Arverne, Queens,
a beachfront resort area on the
Rockaway Peninsula near New York
City. Around 5 p.m., a painter at the
three-story Hotel Nautilus dropped a cigarette onto
the wooden shingle roof of the single-story section of the building. A fire broke out, and workers
attempted to extinguish it with buckets of water.
The flames continued to spread, however, and the
fire department was contacted around 5:15 p.m.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, the
hotel was engulfed in flames and the surrounding
houses were also on fire. Fire hydrants closest
to the hotel were inaccessible due to the intense
heat. As additional companies arrived, high winds
spread the fire to buildings north of the Nautilus by carrying burning embers to their wooden

I

FIRE INCIDENTS AND
OTHER NOTABLE EVENTS
FROM SAFETY HISTORY

shingle roofs. Less than an hour
after the fire started, five alarms
had been called in, and several
other companies were brought
in from the mainland to assist.
By 6 p.m., the blaze had spread
approximately 1,500 feet north
to Rockaway Boulevard, preventing mainland companies
from reaching the west side of
the fire. They battled the fire on
the east side in a congested area
with few fire hydrants until
the wind slowed later in the
evening, allowing firefighters to
reach the west side of the fire
and extinguish the remaining
burning buildings.
By then, though, the damage
had been done. Fire destroyed
more than 140 structures,
including hotels, boarding
houses, private homes, and an
orphanage, resulting in about $2 million in damage. Several firefighters
were injured, and scores of residents were left homeless.
In a National Board of Fire Underwriters report on the Arverne conflagration, Joseph "Smoky Joe" Martin, chief officer in command of the
Arverne fire, described the wooden shingle roofs as "a conflagration
breeder and spreader," especially in congested areas such as Arverne
and many other districts of greater New York. Martin requested that
wooden shingle roofs receive special attention as fire hazards, and
called for the development of fire-resistant substitutes for wood shingles, which, he argued, "should be taboo."
The report also emphasized the importance of a dependable fire
alarm service for areas like Arverne, as well as "quickly available"
firefighting resources, an ample water supply with close grouping of
hydrants, and improved accessibility through better street layout. After
the fire, a new fire station was built on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, and
the city issued an order to the water company to install 200 additional
hydrants in the area.
According to a 1945 issue of With New York Firemen Magazine, "Not
long after the Arverne debacle, legislation regarding fire-resistive roof
construction was enacted in New York City."
THE NFPA LIBRARY AND ARCHIVE holds a rich collection of books, reports, and photographs
that document important moments in fire history. To provide better electronic access for researchers and to preserve our unique archival holdings, work has begun to digitize the files of the Fire
Record Department, the original NFPA department responsible for collecting and analyzing information and compiling statistics about key fires and other events. The incidents featured in "Looking
Back" are drawn from this collection and will eventually be part of NFPA's online archive. For information, visit nfpa.org/library.

NFPA RESEARCH LIBRARY & ARCHIVES

Looking Back

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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

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