Saturday, 7 September 2013

70 years ago: The deadliest disaster in Houston's history, the Gulf Hotel Fire

On the night of September 7, 1943 a fire broke out in a delapidated rooming house called the Gulf Hotel, located in Houston, Texas and inhabited by at least 185 registered persons and transients.

Fifty-five individuals perished in the smoke, flames and confusion as a rapidly moving fire consumed the interior of the building.

Poor exit signage, inadequate lighting of egress points and lack of any alarm system to awaken those asleep led to the high loss of life. External fire escapes were difficult to access.

Poor housekeeping conditions and congestion both hampered escape and fed the fire.

The exact cause of the fire is not entirely certain. A tenant inadvertently started a fire on his mattress around midnight with a cigarette.

This fire was doused but the linen was apparently still smoldering when it was carelessly discarded in a basket in the linen room.

It was discovered later that highly flammable insecticide was also stored in that linen room. The fire department investigation concluded that the fire did in fact start there.

Testimony from the inquiry led investigators to suspect that the walls and partitions of the building became saturated with this insecticide over the course of many years of regular use. This materially helped the rapid spread of the fire as well.

Saturday 7 September 2013


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