Alarming fire at Young's Oil Works

Fire rips through the works in 1882

From the West Lothian Courier

A dangerous outbreak of fire took place on Tuesday afternoon at Addiewell Oil Works, the property of Young’s Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company (Limited).  Indeed, the fire at one time had assumed such alarming proportions that it was feared the whole works were doomed to destruction.  The works, which are situated about a mile and a half from the village of West Calder, cover and area of about 75 acres of ground immediately north of the Caledonian Railway’s Edinburgh and Glasgow line.  Fortunately, the buildings are all more or less isolated, but even with this advantage, the highly inflammable nature of the ingredients requisite for the manufacture of oil, paraffin, and candles, renders an outbreak of fire a matter of the most serious consequence.

Fire brigade

Another drawback exists in the distance of the works from a fire brigade depot, but the company have in a manner surmounted this difficulty by the formation of a highly trained and efficient body of firemen among their workmen.  To their services of Tuesday, aided by a copious supply of water, the company are indebted for the preservation of their works.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Alarming fire at Young's Oil Works' page

Could not give the alarm

How the fire originated is yet a matter of conjecture, but the probability is that it was caused by sparks falling from one of the many chimney stalks in the works, and igniting the sheathing of a steam-pipe that led into the crude paraffin department. Be this as it may, it is said that a pointsman on the Caledonian Railway observed the sheathing of the fire, but as he was engaged shunting he could not leave his post and give the alarm. The fire accordingly ran along the pipe towards the crude paraffin buildings, which consist of two large malleable iron tanks resting on walls from eighteen to twenty feet in height.  The tanks, which fortunately contained only a few thousand gallons were covered with a tiled roof, and the fire from the pipe in some way or other ignited the oil in the tanks.    In a minute more, tongues of flame were darting through the roof to a height of 40 or 50 feet, and the whole works were enveloped in a dense mass of smoke.  The conflagration was seen from West Calder, and as the village is almost wholly dependent on the works, the greatest excitement prevailed among the inhabitants.  Passengers in the trains also observed the fire, and the news that Young’s Paraffin Works were in flames were soon conveyed to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Alarming fire at Young's Oil Works' page
Roof falls in

Although the fire broke out when the men were at dinner, the brigade promptly got to work, and every effort was made to confine its violence to the crude paraffin building.  For a long time it seemed as if the fire would communicate with the candle-house, in which a vast quantity of inflammable material was stored, and had it once obtained a hold there is not the slightest doubt but what the destruction of the whole works would have followed, as the wind was blowing a full gale.  When the roof of the crude paraffin building fell in, and a shower of sparks was carried across the works, the danger became greater; but the firemen were equal to the emergency, and the contiguous buildings were kept intact.  By five o’clock the oil in the tanks had been consumed, and it became evident that the firemen had obtained the mastery.  They still, however, continued to pour volumes of water on the buildings till six o’clock, by which time the fire was effectually extinguished. 

Twisted by the fierce heat

The damage by fire and water has not been estimated, but it is almost entirely confined to the building in which it originated.  The tanks have been tilted up at the ends, and the sides have been bent and twisted by the fierce heat.  Little damage was done to the machinery and plant, and the night-shift were able to begin their labours as usual. Mr McCutchon, the manager of the works, was on the ground all the time, and took an active part in the superintendence of the fire brigade. The works are fully insured.

West Lothian Courier, 11 March 1882, page 3

This page was added by Sybil Cavanagh on 30/03/2012.

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