Old news from Armidale and New England

Local news from newspaper archives

January 1934: Township Rocked – Disastrous Explosion And Blaze At Uralla

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The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, Wednesday, January 3, 1934



Tremendous Detonation Crashes 14 inch Walls


(By Our Own Reporter)

Bursting the 14 inch brick walls of Messrs. S. Bow and Sons’ general store, at the corner of Hill and Maitland streets, Uralla, a terrific explosion startled residents abed last night.

The solid structure was demolished with the terrific detonation and a fire consumed within a quarter of an hour all the goods in the store.

For most of the residents of the township, the heavy blast of the explosion was the first indication of anything untoward, and hundreds of people were quickly on the scene to see the inferno quickly consume the interior of the store.

As Uralla has no fire brigade, people simply had to watch the fire burn itself out, but a volunteer bucket brigade did yeoman service in saving a weather-board dwelling occupied by Messrs. W. and S. Tet Fong, and three outbuildings in the store yard.

Residents were astounded to find, when they reached the scene, a few minutes after the explosion, that hardly one brick stood on another.

The four brick walls, 14 inches in thickness, had been burst outward and the roof had been lifted and deposited, torn and twisted, to one side.

This morning the scene gave the impression that the building had been wrecked by a gigantic hammer. Solid piers of bricks had been tossed aside like light timber, the thick walls torn apart, the only portions left standing being the front portico and several sheets of iron from the back storeroom and office.

The wooden portions of the roofing and fixtures which were tossed away from the maw of the flames were to be seen splintered and torn to match wood. Even this afternoon the ruins were still smouldering, and some of the brick and iron work was nearly red-hot.

Debris from the wrecked building was scattered over a large area, glass, splinters, pieces of iron, solid pieces of rafters and woodwork were to be seen more than 200 yards away, in all directions.

Last night, when the fire was at its height, goods of all descriptions—hats, shirts, pyjamas, boots and shoes, kerosene pumps, hardware, and many other articles—were scattered all over the adjacent streets, and were gathered by the police and assistants and housed in the Court House for safety.

Floating in the Breeze

A bathing suit and a bedraggled shirt were to be seen floating in the light breeze over a telephone wire, and a scorched pair of pyjama trousers was found in a yard over 100 yards away.

During the blaze residents were alarmed by the constant explosion of boxes of cartridges and the empty cardboard shells were flung in all directions.

Another shock awaited watchers when an almost empty kerosene drum exploded with a loud crash, hurling itself across the yard.

Some idea of the terrific explosion might he gauged from the fact that residents miles from Uralla were awakened by the noise, and a message was received from Kentucky inquiring as to its cause.

Several Armidale citizens, on their way home from the pictures, aver that they heard the sound, like a muffled peal of thunder, and it is quite likely that the sound carried in the still air.

Windows in premises adjacent to the store suffered extensively. Several windows at the Post Office, 100 yards away, two at the Court House, about the same distance on the opposite side of the street, and others in private houses were shattered, while pictures and crockery were dislodged in houses over a wide area, but especially in the Woodville district. At the telephone exchange the side door was burst open.

Although several persons were about the streets at the time nobody, as far as can be ascertained, saw the actual explosion. but it is stated that a taxi driver, named Newman, who lived almost opposite, saw the blaze which immediately preceded the crash. He said that he was awakened by a sound as if somebody was moving in the yard of his premises, and sitting up in bed saw the reflection of some light on the bowser outside. Thinking one of the bowsers had become ignited, he made to get up, but immediately the tremendous detonation shook the room, and he hurried outside to see Bow and Sons’ store a mass of wreckage, with flames quickly devouring what remained of the interior.

Cause of Explosion a Mystery

It is, indeed, fortunate that nobody was passing, or in close proximity of the store, when it was burst asunder by the explosion, otherwise it is certain that they would have been killed by the flying debris.

Messrs. W. and S. Tet Fong occupied the weatherboard cottage at the rear of the store, and the iron store-room appeared to have shielded their residence against the blast. Both were absent at the time, and one, Mr. W. Tet Fong, appears to have had a narrow escape. He usually sleeps in the front of the store, and that portion was reduced to a heap of brickwork.

Mr. Wallace Bow was at his residence some distance away, and rushed down to find his store in ruins.

The cause of the explosion is a mystery. It is stated that no explosive, other than cartridges, are kept in the store: there was no inflammable liquid in the store proper.

Owing to the thorough nature of the demolition of the building it is highly improbable that gases caused by fire should cause such a crash. It is unlikely that sufficient vacuum could be caused for such a proceeding, and louvred ventilators in the roof provided plenty of air.

At present police are mystified. The suggestion that burglars were responsible is discounted by the fact that the safe was found intact, and, when opened after it had cooled, it was found to contain the money left when business was completed for the day.

The business had been conducted in the form of an assigned estate for some months, and an official receiver, Mr. Alf Shears, was the manager.

The building was the property of Mr. Gilbert Bow and was insured for £1000, while the stock, plant and fittings were insured by the assigned estate for £4000.

First-class Constable Dogan of Tamworth in working with Constable Scott, of Uralla, on the case.

Written by macalba

November 19, 2020 at 6:27 pm

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