Raw sugar was refined through many processes to make the product stable and durable as well as pure. One hazard that could not be eliminated was fire. And when fire caught hold, the spectacle matched the destruction.
Fire burst out in the CSR’s refined sugar store before dawn on October 25th, 1918. Flames shot 30 metres into the air, and explosions woke the neighbourhood. Police had to control the huge crowds drawn to the contest between fire, firemen – and the fireboat Pluvius. Before the fire was brought under smouldering control, 3000 tons of sugar was caramelised, the seven storey sugar store had collapsed, and all its machinery was wrecked.
The Sydney Morning Herald report (below) explains the location and structure of the refined sugar store. On the site of the present Fleetview building, it was four storeys high on Bowman Street, and seven storeys high at water’s edge: it occupied the space between Refinery Square (the terminus of Jones Street) and the Engineers’ Offices (now the Rum Store).
BIG CITY FIRE.
C.S.R. COY’S. SUGAR STORE COMPLETELY DESTROYED WITH CONTENTS.
Sydney Morning Herald 25 October 1918
At 1 o’clock this morning a fire was dis- covered in the refined sugar store of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company at Pyrmont, and as a result almost 3000 tons of refined sugar, together with the building and machinery, were completely destroyed.
The store was a brick building with an iron roof, facing Jones and Bowman Streets, and running back to the water’s edge. The front portion of the building consisted of four stories and a basement, while that portion facing the harbour was composed of seven stories and a basement, and in this building were stored almost 3000 tons of refined sugar, while in another portion of the same building was erected machinery for handling the sugar. This building was connected by a set of offices with the loaf sugar factory, and on the other side was the boiler- house and engineer’s offices. Some of the employees were at work in the store when the fire was discovered, and the alarm was at once given to the Fire Brigades Headquarters.
With all speed Chief Officer Sparkes turned out every available fireman and fire engine. He also sent for the fire-float Pluvius. The fire men attacked the burning building from every available angle, but the flames seemed to rush from floor to floor and end to end like lightning. Suddenly the roof fell in with a loud report, and the flames leapt high into the sky. Then as the great heat and flames burnt through the supports the top walls begin to go. Those facing Jones-street went first, and as they crashed through the roof below, the report was like that of a cannon, and the sky for a great distance was illuminated. Despite the great heat the fire- men stuck to their task. Chief Officer Sparkes directed every energy towards preventing the flames spreading beyond the store, and paid particular attention to the loaf sugar factory, which they succeeded in saving. But the flames were not to be denied, and they completely burnt out the refined sugar store, together with the whole of the contents. At one time there was great danger of the boiler- house going, and to prevent any explosion through the walls of the store falling in on the boilers the steam was blown off and the fires drawn. For hours the firemen worked at the building, pouring tons of water on to the molten sugar, burning wood, and red-hot bricks, and at last they had the satisfaction of getting the flames under control. The fire was still smouldering when this edition went to press.
The general manager of the company, Mr Knox, was acquainted of the fire, and he made an appearance at the works shortly after 2 o’clock. When spoken to Mr Knox said he was pleased to say that although some men were at work in the building at the time of the fire none were hurt. No one knows how the fire had occurred. Between 2000 and 3000 tons of refined sugar wore stored in the building, and this had been completely destroyed. Fortunately the fire had not touched the main refining machinery, and they would be at work again on Monday. The whole of the sugar in the store had been insured, but, speaking off hand, the damage would amount to between £60,000 and £70,000.
At times the flames rose probably 100ft in the air, and this soon attracted an enormous crowd of people, who came from everywhere. A large body of police was present and kept the too-eager ones back from hampering the efforts of the firemen.
Another fire a few years later (below) resulted from spontaneous combustion in the coal silos.
BIG FIRE at Sugar Refinery
DAMAGE PLACED AT £50,000
Serious damage was caused by a fire which broke out at the works of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, Pyrmont, late last night. Two hours elapsed before the firemen gained the upper hand.
A loud explosion occurred as the huge boilers blew out. It is thought that spontaneous combustion in the coal stacks was responsible for the outbreak.
Damage is estimated at about £50,000.