View of a Rankin Street, showing some older style cars, buildings and telegraph poles

News of the day

Johnstone River Advocate and Innisfail News, 24 February 1933, page 2

Disastrous fire in Innisfail: Six Rankin Street shops destroyed. Considerable losses result

Considerable losses resulted from a fire which, commencing at about 3 a.m. today, destroyed six shops in Rankin Street, including those occupied by Mae’s Newsagency, Mr T Donkin, Mr S S Cahill, and Mr S S Tilbe, all of whom lost the major portion of their business possessions and, in some instances, much personal property.

The official details of the insurances are not yet available, but the outbreak was undoubtedly one of the most catastrophic in Innisfail’s commercial history.

But for the absence of high winds, the outbreak would have been more serious, as, at one stage, both the postal department buildings and the stone structure owned by Mr A S Mellick and the others beyond were endangered.

The first alarm of the fire was given by Mr L Waters, who resides at the read of the demolished buildings.

Awakened by an unusual sound, Mr Waters began investigations, and found flames and smoke issuing from the read portion of the building. The fire appeared to be located in two unoccupied rooms, which had been added to the gable during recent years.

Through his son Rupert, Mr Waters spread the alarm and, realising that it was impossible to effect a save of any of the buildings, he concentrated his efforts on his own house, which is but a few yards behind the destroyed row of shops.

With the assistance of members of his family, Mr Waters removed the bedding and personal property on which he set no little value. Meanwhile, volunteers secured buckets and, working feverishly, saturated all likely points of danger in the house.

Mr R Waters raced up the laneway separating his father’s premises from those accommodating Mr T Donkin and his cries of “Fire! Fire!” aroused Mrs Donkin and Miss Charlotte Hurford, Mr Donkin senior, and Mr J Donkin being at present in the Mareeba area, where advice of last night’s conflagration was sent this morning.

“the first thing I thought of when I heard Mr Waters’ alarm was Mrs Macartney and her baby and, after assisting her remove her child to safety, I returned to my home” Mrs Donkin said today.

“When I first saw the blaze” Mrs Donkin proceeded, “some was just beginning to come through the roof of Mr Cahill’s shop, but it had got a good hold inside. Within about twenty minutes, the buildings were hidden by flames and smoke, and we only had time to save our clothes before the fire broke through the front part of the wall alongside Mr Waters’ premises and gradually enveloped our building.”

Mrs Donkin continued that the whole of her furniture, including a bedroom suite costing £100 when bought new and which she valued highly, was lost, as well as numerous personal belongings and all Mr Donkin’s dental equipment.

“Mr Donkin will be a big loser” added Mrs Donkin, who went on to pay a tribute to the efforts of the citizens who assisted in removing the clothes from her home.

At the first alarm, Mr R Waters broke open the door of the workshop and, finding it impossible to check the spread of the fire, endeavoured to remove some valuable tools. He had only succeeded in getting one of them clear when the intense heat and flames and smoke prevented him from regaining entry.

Meanwhile, the outbreak, which had already enveloped the premises occupied by Mr Waters, Mr S S Cahill and the two adjoining vacant shops, had assumed such proportions that no human   power could have extinguished it.

The flames threatened to ignite the residence of the postmaster, Mr J G Greer, where a remarkable save was effected through the efforts of Mr Greer, members of his staff and other volunteers.

Mr Greer, describing his experiences of the outbreak this morning, said that, fortunately, a big iron tank was situation on the fire side, in close proximity to the verandah. The bucket brigade had been readily formed and an adequate supply of departmental containers were secured. By strenuous efforts, they managed to keep the fire from encroaching on to the official premises, which were separated from the blazing wall by approximately seven feet. The facia for the full length of the verandah on the fire side was burnt, and the guttering considerable damaged, but, apart from that, little injury was suffered by the building. An indication of the intense heat in which workers labored was the fact that the solder on the roofing melted, and was dropped around the heads of the firefighters. With the aid of an axe the lattice work at the end of the verandah was removed, and access was thus gained to the tanks, from which water was taken through the top as well as from the tap.

To show how really close the post-master’s residence came to being destroyed, Mr Greer pointed to the dividing fence between the two properties, which was almost completely destroyed for the full length.

Mr Greer stated that the fire, in his opinion, commenced about 3 a.m. and, when going out to the street, he observed dense volumes of smoke and flames issuing from the premises occupied by Mr Cahill and Mr Waters. Mr Greer removed some of the personal effects from his residence but, realizing that the residence might be saved completed, concentrated his efforts in that direction.

About two chains of telephone cable, extending from the side of Mr S. S. Tilbe’s shop towards McDonald’s, were completely destroyed, and the services of nine subscribers were interrupted. An early start has been made to connect those buildings not wholly destroyed.

In the other direction, the outbreak had meanwhile ‘crossed the laneway separating the Waters’ establishment from that occupied by Mr T Donkin, dentist, and that building was soon burning fiercely.

The flames spread onwards to the newsagency conducted by Mr J Macartney, where they quickly gained complete hold.

Mr Macartney’s first intimation of the outbreak was when he heard the alarm from below. The heat was then intense, and, after ensuring the safety of his wife and few weeks’ old baby, who were sleeping in the building, he, with a number of friends, removed some of the personal effects from his establishment.

By the time he had succeeded in getting the more valuable of his personal property to safety, the flames had gained such a hold that it was impossible to save any of the stick with which his business is equipped.

The loss sustained by Mr Macartney is a considerable one, in stock alone, of which he estimated its value at £2000, whilst the insurance totalled only £1000.

By this time, the adjoining offices of Messrs W D Davies and Co and HK Smith had become endangered. Volunteers quickly removed papers and furniture and kept a constant play of water, by means of buckets, on the ceiling, which had commenced to smoulder. This had the effect of checking the flames, and, when Chinese pumps were obtained from Messrs See Poy and Sons Pty ltd and other owners, the safety of the building – which was definitely in danger for a period – was established.

The save, like that of Mr Waters’ premises and his garage, as well as the post-master’s residence, can be considered a remarkable one and is attributable to the complete absence of wind and the strenuous efforts of the volunteer fire fighters.

Fears for the safety of the Commercial Bank of Sydney, adjoining Mr Davies’ office, were entertained, and the more important of the bank’s papers and books were removed to the National Bank of Australia ltd for security.

Mr A S Mellick, who played no small part in the prevention of further spread, will suffer considerable loss as a result of the outbreak. He estimated the value of the building owned by him, and occupied by Mr Macartney and Mr Donkin, to be £3000. Mr Mellick considers that his loss will be £2000.

It had been Mr Mellick’s intention to erect a fire break between the premises occupied by Mr Waters and those used by Mr Donkin and plans had already been prepared for a suitable structure.

Mr Waters said today that the buildings in which the fire began were erected in 1913 and were built of Oregon pine for the most part, a highly inflammable material because of the high resinous content. One wall was part of a building which had been constructed 35 years ago.

The properties occupied by Mr Waters, Mr Tilbe and Mr Cahill, as well as the two unoccupied shops, were owned by Mr N Spanos, but details of his loss could not be ascertained today.

Mr Cahill said this morning that his insurances totalled £1300, but his stock alone easily reached £1200 in value. “furthermore” Mr Cahill said, “there have been inquiries for my business from three prospective buyers, and one from Newcastle is now in Brisbane, where he had begun investigations on the basis of a price o £1700. He was to have come to Innisfail to inspect. I am, therefore,” concluded Mr Cahill, “a heavy loser.”

Mr Waters has escaped the ravages for which the fire demon has been responsible in Innisfail for many years. Whilst buildings all around his location have been destroyed, he had hitherto remained almost unaffected. His narrowest escape was some years ago, when the double walls of the building in which Mr Cahill was recently conducting business caught fire. It was only through the observation of Mr Waters and his subsequent efforts, with the assistance of others, that extinguished a blaze that threatened to completely destroy the whole row of shops. Since then, Mr Waters has kept a close watch against fire, but his efforts were to no purpose this morning, because of the rapid manner in which the conflagration spread.


Rankin Street is named after E.B. Rankin, the first government surveyor of the area.


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