Wellsville Daily Reporter - February 20, 1948

Three Members of Family Injured as $25,000 Fire Sweeps Allentown

Fumes of Gasoline Flash;

Large Building Destroyed

George M. Wood and Family Narrowly Escape as Fire Spreads Rapidly

            Allentown, Feb. 20 – Gasoline fumes which flashed after coming in contact with small heating unit today were listed as the cause of a $25,000 fire which destroyed the Allentown Garage and Service Station, and family dwelling, injured the proprietor and hospitalized his wife and small son here late yesterday afternoon.

            The injured man, owner of the garage is George M. Wood.  He received cuts on the right arm when he smashed a window with his fist to rescue his three-year-old son, Jack.  The little boy is in Jones Memorial Hospital, Wellsville, together with his mother, Mrs. Viola Wood, 30.  Both are suffering from first and second degree burns. Their conditions are described as good.

            Fire departments from five communities brought nine pieces of apparatus to battle the two-hour blaze.  Eleven hose lines were laid from two nearby creeks which run under Route 17 east of the garage.

            Four pumpers fed water through the lines while operating from a small bridge about 200 feet east of the blaze.  Two others were put into operation at a second bridge and another truck pumped water from the rear of the burning building.  Two trucks from the Bolivar Fire Department stood by to give relief.

            Mr. Wood said today that he could not give an accurate estimate of the loss but said it would be “over $25,000.”  He said it was partially covered by insurance.

            Mr. Wood told newsmen a small gasoline tank truck had been unloaded at the station early in the afternoon and the vehicle was still standing in front of the building when the fire started.  He said he believed fumes from the gasoline had filtered into the station and come into contact with “possibly a hot water heater” causing the flash fire.

            Fire Chief Nathan Swarthout of Allentown agreed as to the cause of the fire.

            The injured owner said he had just finished checking the day’s receipts and was standing near the door of the station when the fumes flashed into roaring flames.  Mrs. Wood was inside the building and rushed out.  She suffered burns about the legs.  The fire started about 4 o’-clock.

            An employe of the garage, Louis Wesche, who was working in the building, leaped into the parked gasoline truck and drove it to a point several hundred feet from the fire.  A second employe, Wayne Allen summoned the Allentown Fire Department.

            The injured little boy was trapped by the flames in a small room connecting the garage with the family living quarters and his father was forced to smash a window to rescue his son.

            Chief Swarthout said the two trucks of the Allentown Fire Department arrived about 4:10 and that “flames were rolling out of the station and were shooting about 75 feet in the air.”  An Army surplus truck, converted into a fire engine, was stationed in front of the building and firemen on that piece of apparatus battled the flames with two booster lines.

            The second Allentown truck continued to the nearby bridge to pump water through one 2 ½ inch line and two 1 ½ inch lines and Chief Swarthout called the Wellsville Fire Department.

            After a 20 minute battle, Allentown firemen had the blaze nearly under control when the water supply ran out.  Almost simultaneously the suction hose strainer on the second truck became plugged with debris floating in the swollen creek, shutting off water from the pumper.

            With the water supply cut off, the flames sprang up again and fanned by a stiff breeze, swept through the building.

            Firemen from Scio, Bolivar and Alma were called at this time.

            After a booster tank on the Allentown truck ran dry Chief Swartout ordered it to the rear of the garage to pump from a small stream there.  Two booster lines and a 1 ½ inch line were used.

            About 5:30 o’clock, fire companies from four communities were allowed to return home.  Allentown firemen remained on the scene with one truck, until 8 o’clock, wetting down the smoldering debris.  A fire police guard was left on the building throughout the night.

            This morning firemen, checking through the ruins, picked up several dollars in coins, some of them melted together by the intense heat.  An estimated $500 in currency and checks was destroyed in the flames.

            The cash register in the building was salvaged today and the contents, about $70, were found to be intact.  Firemen said a large piece of sheet metal had fallen over the register, protecting it from the full fury of the fire.

            “Plans for rebuilding are indefinite at this time,” Mr. Wood said today.