Fire and Explosions Threaten to Destroy Rosslyn

Murphy and Ames was a lumber and building materials company founded in 1908 by Nathaniel S. Ames and Thomas B. Murphy. In addition to its two founders, the company began with two other employees, plus one horse and wagon for deliveries. The first office in Rosslyn (pictured here) started as a 16' by 24' shack.
Murphy and Ames was a lumber and building materials company founded in 1908 by Nathaniel S. Ames and Thomas B. Murphy. In addition to its two founders, the company began with two other employees, plus one horse and wagon for deliveries. The first office in Rosslyn (pictured here) started as a 16′ by 24′ shack. (Arlington Public Library)

You may not know this, but many years ago, in 1925, Rosslyn was nearly destroyed by a major fire. We came across a crazy article detailing the horrors and action-movie like sequences of the fire that ripped the town. Below is the article published in The Washington Post on September 25th of that year

Rosslyn was seriously threatened with destruction by fire last night, when six 2,000 gallon gasoline tanks of the Crown Oil & Wax Co. in Rosslyn caught fire and exploded, sending sheets of blazing gasoline in all directions, and causing damage estimated at between $75,000 and $100,000.

The blaze remained unchecked for nearly two hours, due to a temporary stoppage of the water supply, first obtained from the water tower in the Murphy-Ames lumber yard close by.

Fire apparatus from Washington, Rosslyn, Ballston, Alexandria, Cherrydale, East Arlington, Clarendon and Arlington, were forced to string their hose lines for 2,000 feet to reach the fire.

W. R. Biggs and A. B. Allison, of the Ballston fire company, narrowly escaped with their lives by leaping from an adjoining tank where they were playing a stream of water just before the tank exploded. With each explosion gasoline was thrown hundreds of feet in the air and fire fighters were forced to seek safety behind other tanks.

How nuts is that? Leaping across tanks to avoid explosions? Sounds like Die Hard.

The story continues …

The crowd of approximately 10,000 persons that viewed the fire from the Virginia side of the river seriously hampered the efforts of the firefighters. Many edged their way so close to the burning tanks that firemen threatened to turn the hose on them if they did not seek safer points of view.

Several young boys in Rosslyn and the personnel of the Rosslyn fire company saved several loaded gasoline trucks from destruction. As soon as the fire started they ran between the blazing tanks and, with imminent danger to their lives, drove and pushed the trucks to safety. Immediately after they had done so two tanks exploded, sending a shower of blazing gasoline within a few feet of them.

The blaze, which could be seen for miles, attracted thousands of Washingtonians to the scene. Police reserves from the Seventh and Third precincts had difficulty in averting a serious traffic jam from Thirtieth and M streets northwest to the Virginia side of the Key bridge. Several fire engines had to make detours around M street to cross the bridge.

Holy crap, can you imagine how crazy this scene was?

View of Aqueduct Bridge and Rosslyn from Georgetown, ca. 1900. The American Brewery is located in upper right. (Arlington Public Library)
View of Aqueduct Bridge and Rosslyn from Georgetown, ca. 1900. The American Brewery is located in upper right. (Arlington Public Library)

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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