The burning of the steamer Sankaty at her wharf in New Bedford on Monday evening of this week, has been the most thrilling event in this section this week.
Damage estimated at $350,000 was caused by the fire which started on the dock of the New England Steamship Company and totally destroyed the dock and burned the steamer Sankaty of the Vineyard Line to the water’s edge.
The fire started from some unknown cause in some hay on the dock and burned with such rapidity that five men who were on the steamer at the time were obliged to jump overboard and lost practically everything except the clothing which they had on. The men were Captain Manual K. Sylvia; William Allen, a fireman; William Rogers, an oiler; and William Hindley and Oliver Jessaume, deck hands.
For a time the steamer and wharf burned fiercely and during this time three sharp explosions were heard on the craft and alarmed persons in charge of property nearby but while the wharf is regarded as practically a total loss, firemen were able to prevent its spread to any of the adjoining property.
Soon the hawsers of the steamer burned through and the tide caused the still burning steamer to drift over to the Fairhaven shore, where it touched the Charles W. Morgan, famous old square-rigger. The entire Fairhaven Fire Department was ready for it, however, and prevented the fire from spreading to the Morgan or any other ships.
There were two tugs which have hose lines which can be used in case of fire, but it happened that both of them were on the north side of the drawbridge and it was some time before a drawtender could be found to open the draw and allow the boats to go out to play on the burning steamer.
The boat was valued at $225,000 and the dock at $125,000. On the dock was 3000 feet of lumber and considerable miscellaneous freight which was to have come to the island Tuesday. This was practically destroyed.
The fire attracted a crowd of thousands from all parts of the city. The steamship company will use the New York dock, which is next to the burned one, and the schedule of its boats are being rearranged.
The Sankaty was a steel-hulled steamer, built thirteen years ago, and was 188 feet in length. She was speedy and had become a popular boat with travelers.
Commenting editorially of the disaster the Standard of Tuesday evening says:
“The destruction of the steamer Sankaty by fire last night came at a most inopportune time, the season of heaviest travel between New Bedford and Woods Hole and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket having just begun. For many years the steamboat company maintained a reserve boat, but in recent years the policy, dictated by motives of economy, has been to limit the fleet to the number of boats needed to maintain the regular schedule, working them to the limit of their capacity in the rush season. The loss of the Sankaty will mean a curtailment in service until such time as another boat can be procured to fill in temporarily, three steamers having had about all they could do to furnish adequate freight and passengers accommodations. With the Fourth of July close at hand the fire could not have come at a worse time for the public and the company. The only element of good fortune that can be discerned in the disaster is that it was the Sankaty that was destroyed. Of three steamers she was the poorest adapted to the requirements of this service, and when she is replaced it will doubtless be with a boat the type of the Islander.”