Bunker Fire


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Marilyn Burgess

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Just purchased a book which stated that there was a fire burning in the coal storage area of the hold.

Crew members tried to put the fire out but could only keep it under control as it was burning on the bottom.

Is anyone else familiar with this fact.

Shinyauto
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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The incident is quite well known, though it sometimes gets exaggerated in the telling.

The fire burned for several days in a bunker on the starboard side of stokehold 5. This sort of thing was fairly common in those days. Coal will spontaneously burn in some conditions. The problem was fixed by shovelling out the coal and using it in the furnaces. A swine of a job, but not a novelty to the trimmers. The coal was all gone by about midday on Saturday, April 13th.

The heat distorted the bulkhead at the forward end of the bunker. According to survivors, Thomas Andrews planned to make major repairs in port, possibly back in Belfast. As it was, he just ordered some cosmetic work with oil.

Whether it had any effect on the sinking process is argued. Personally I think probably not, but no doubt it didn't help. For instance, small leaks may have developed around the edge of the bulkhead.
 

Jeremy Lee

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Is it true that the Titanic was racing to New York because it was on fire and it might spread? Coal can smoulder for a VERY long time.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Nope. It's not true. As Dave Gittins pointed out, the problem was dealt with by the usual means: Shoveling the coal out of the bunker into the furnaces until they could reach the burning material and put it out.

By the 13th, it was history.
 
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Tom Pappas

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I find it interesting that the bulkhead damaged by the fire was involved (if only peripherally) in the sudden inrush of water into Boiler Room #5 shortly before 1:00 AM.

Up until that time, the bow had flooded until the waterline inside equaled that outside, at which time (about 12:30) the inflow was almost stopped. At that time, the pumps were keeping Titanic afloat. Then something[sup]1[/sup] happened that allowed BR5 to flood almost instantaneously, causing Chief Engineer Joseph Bell to exclaim "My God, we are lost!"

Was whatever happened facilitated by fire damage to the structures?

[sup]1[/sup]The exact source of the inrush is conjectural. Many believe that the door to the forward starboard bunker gave way, emptying its contents into the compartment. But if one calculates the volume of the bunker and spreads that quantity of water over the entire boiler room, it's only a foot or two deep, whereas in the event the volume of water was sufficient to bash people around, drowning Engineer Shepherd. Would Bell have uttered his despairing cry if a foot of water had overtaken them? I don't think so. My own take is that the watertight door into Boiler Room #6 gave way, and the torrent of water resulted from the emptying of that compartment. This volume of water, fed by the combined breaches in the two boiler rooms, was sufficient to overwhelm the pumps, with the inevitable result.

But why would the yield strength of the watertight door - an essential component of the flotation system - be exceeded by an adjacent compartment full of water? Wasn't that what it was designed to contain, after all?
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I think it would depend on how much damage was done during the collision and how much additional damage was being done by the stresses imposed on the hull by the flooding itself. I would think that if some kind of failure occured which undermined the bulkhead in question so that it could no longer take the stresses imposed, life would get "interesting" real quick in BR#5
 

George Behe

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Hi, Tom!

A couple of observations:

> I find it interesting that the bulkhead damaged >by the fire was involved (if only peripherally) >in the sudden inrush of water into Boiler Room #5 >shortly before 1:00 AM.

I believe the inrush of water occurred closer to 1:30 a.m. (After Barrett was driven out of BR #5, he went *directly* up on deck and got into boat 13, which was almost ready to be launched at that time. The launching of #13 occurred at around 1:35 - 1:40 a.m.)

> Then something1 happened that allowed BR5 to >flood almost instantaneously, causing Chief >Engineer Joseph Bell to exclaim "My God, we are >lost!" .... Would Bell have uttered his >despairing cry if a foot of water had overtaken >them?

For what it's worth, I don't think Bell was actually on the scene when the inrush of water occurred. The only account I've ever seen which pertains to this event says that Bell uttered those words after he was *told* that the inrush of water had occurred.

>... whereas in the event the volume of water was >sufficient to bash people around, drowning >Engineer Shepherd.

Just for the sake of accuracy, it's not at all certain that Shepherd lost his life at that time. At least one account exists which says that Shepherd had been carried aft some time prior to the inrush of water.

>I don't think so. My own take is that the >watertight door into Boiler Room #6 gave way, and >the torrent of water resulted from the emptying >of that compartment.

I tend to agree with you. (Indeed, I proposed this same explanation on Mark Taylor's Titanic Discuss Mailing List several years ago.)

> But why would the yield strength of the >watertight door - an essential component of the
>flotation system - be exceeded by an adjacent >compartment full of water?

My own feeling is that by 1:30 a.m. the water had risen above the tops of *every* WT bulkhead forward of BR #6 and that it was the pressure from this 'excess water' that exceeded the strength of the WT door in BR #6. (The tops of these forward WT bulkheads were all lower than the one between BR #6 and #5, which would have allowed the water which had risen *above* the tops of these forward bulkheads to exert pressure on the bulkhead between BR#6 and #5.)

I hope I've expressed myself clearly here; I wish I could use a diagram to explain what I mean.

All my best,

George
 
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Tom Pappas

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If I understand what you mean by "excess water," I have to disagree. The amount of water forward of BR6 doesn't affect the pressure of the hydrostatic head pushing against the bulkhead. This pressure is a function only of the height of the water, which would ipso facto have been within design limits (in fact, it was probably well within that limit, which would have included a 100% overpressure factor).

The ineluctable conclusion is that something wasn't up to spec (and given the rigor with which H&W approached their craft, the fire certainly becomes a prime suspect).
 

Cal Haines

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Marilyn & Jeremy,

Here is a link to and article I wrote dealing with the whole Bunker fire issue:
http://titanic-model.com/db/db-03/CoalBunkerFire.htm

You may also find this thread of interest, as it deals with the damage to and flooding of the boiler rooms:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/cgi-bin/discus/show.cgi?tpc=5919&post=20649#POST20649

also: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5914/5031.html

Tom,

Chief Bell's "My God, we are lost", qoute. Is pretty questionable. The source of the quote is Everett's 1912 book Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic, page 102:
quote:

Another story told by members of the Titanic's crew, was of a fire which is said to have started in one of the coal bunker of the vessel shortly after she left her dock at Southampton, and which was not extinguished until Saturday afternoon. The story, as told by a fireman, was as follows:

"It had been necessary to take the coal out of sections 2 and 3 on the starboard side, forward, and when the water came rushing in after the collision with the ice the bulkheads would not hold because they did not have the supporting weight of the coal. Somebody reported to Chief Engineer Bell that the forward bulkhead had given way the engineer replied: 'My God, we are lost.'

"Then engineers stayed by the pumps and went down with the ship. The firemen and stokers were sent on deck five minutes before the Titanic sank, when it was seen that they would inevitably be lost if they stayed longer at their work of trying to keep the fires in the boilers and the pumps at work. The lights burned to the last because the dynamos were run by oil engines."
There's a lot of things wrong with this quote: 1) it's third hand, at least, 2) sections 2 and 3 were in boiler room #2, 3) bulkheads do not collapse simple because they do not "have the supporting weight of the coal", 3) the firemen and stokers did not operate the pumps, 4) the dynamos were not "run by oil engines". I give very little credence to this quote, or much else in Everett's book for that matter--it is full of demonstrable errors of fact.

George,

I agree with you that the flooding of boiler room #5 occurred very late in the day, for the same reason you give,

Tom & George,

I am going to stick with a bunker door failure as the best explanation of what Barrett saw. I agree that the water contained by the bunker in question would only place a few feet of water on the deck, but the doors line up well enough with the gaps between the boilers to cause quite a torrent when a door first failed. And that's all that Barrett reports, a great rush of water through the passage between the boilers. (By the way, given that Barrett was the only one to survive the event, who reported to Bell?)

I agree that the water level was probably at the top of the bulkhead, but I'm going to give H&W credit for being able to design a WT door that could handle the pressure. After all, the WT door on the Olympic proved that the things were up to the job when she collided with the Hawke. That leaves us with one other possibility, that the bulkhead itself failed catastrophically, like so much wet cardboard and without a bit of notice. The problem with that idea it that it is not just one bulkhead that we are talking about, it is three (the WT bulkhead and the bulkheads that form the fronts of the bunkers). They were massive things, and tied together by large beams, the aft bunkers in BR#6 were probably full, forming what amounts to a huge dam supported by steel plates. I just don't see how such a structure could fail without a whimper.

Cal​
 

George Behe

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Hi, Cal!

Thanks for posting those links and for explaining your theory to us -- much appreciated.

All my best,

George
 
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Tom Pappas

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I don't think it was the bunker door (the volume of the inrush is wrong, among other things), and the bulkhead (system) was probably strong enough hold the pressure. That leaves the w/t door.

Olympic's encounter with HMS Hawke would not have added significantly to her draft, so the compartments opened by the collision were many feet from being full, whereas Titanic's were full to overflowing. The difference in hydrostatic head shouldn't be enough to exceed the yield strength of the door, but if it had been weakened somehow...

The other thing I wonder about is why the bunker wouldn't have overflowed long before its door was supposed to have failed. If the rate of inflow into the BR5 bunker was sufficient (in the margin) to sink the vessel, it should have been great enough to fill the bunker within a few minutes. If it was only a "firehose" in quantity, on the other hand, then the rupture of the bunker door would haven't overwhelmed the very pumps that had emptied BR5 within a half-hour of the collision.

There's something in there that doesn't add up, and I'm not sure what it is.

Add to the above the route of the inrush, down the passageway on the starboard side of the center boiler. This puts it in a direct line with the w/t door (not the bunker door).
 

Erik Wood

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It is good to see Cal Haines up and about. For the most part I have to agree with both he and George's post. Cal and I have been over the bunker door theory for the better part of three years although it has been the better part of a year since he and I have discussed it.

In my sinking calcualtions I came to much the same conclusion as Cal (after several attempts to reconcile time differences). The loss of a bulkhead in a catastrophic way would probably have unleashed a series of events in a rapid manner which we know did not happen.

The water tight door theory is one that I had thought for quite sometime. Until discussing it with Cal and a few other engineers. The loss of the door could have also meant the loss of stability in the bulkhead it was connected to and I tend to give Harland and Wolff more credit then they are traditionally given. In my recent papers (not yet available for public consumption) I have outlined my current line of thinking around the flooding of boiler room 5. Which of course centers around the sudden inrush of water that George curiously puts at around 1:30. This is to my knowledge around a half of an hour after the traditional story places it or better phrased puts it a half of an hour later then I understand the traditional story to have it.

Until it had been recently pointed out to me I was completely unware of the time frames that George, Bill W. and Tad Fitch had perscribed for the lifeboat launchings and as fate would have it. I had come to the 1:30 time independently with no real source other then mathamatical numbers to prove my point. George and his cohorts provided me with further circumstantial evidence to back up my theory based on there work.

Tom's last little paragraph is the main reason why I had so tightly clung to the water tight door theory. I had said something similar about two years ago and Cal answered it and then I researched the structure even further for me to eliminate the door in my mind. Perhaps Cal could be persuaded to answer in like manner here.

In Topeka last year the thought was thrown around that water came from above and not through a door, as if coming over the tops of the watertight bulkhead. The person (who shall remain nameless) is very well known in the Titanic Community and because of that it caused me to research this idea further. A theory that I am still looking into as my schedule permits. This theory also uses the time of 1:30.
 

Cal Haines

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Cap'n Erik, Thanks for the kind words!

Tom,

I'm going to stick with the bunker door theory. The forward bunker for BR#5 can hold quite a bit water. When you consider the volume occupied by the boilers, the water from the bunker could fill up the remaining space to an alarming extent. Morgan Ford did some calculations a few years back and concluded that if the bunker were full, the water level would rise to about 7 feet. 50% full would give you about 3 feet. Certainly enough to make you assume the worst.

I don't for a minute think that the water from the bunker is what sunk Titanic. As you note, the initial rate of inflow was pretty small, so it was just a matter of water that was already in the ship moving around, rather than a large amount of additional water coming in. I think the flooding of BR#5 its just one of the odd things that happened over which too much has been made. After all, when Barrett left BR#5 he saw water forward on E deck, well above the top of the bulkhead, so it was just a matter of time for it to make its way below. Up to that point the pump in BR#5 may have been able to deal with the water that was leaking in from upper decks and from around the bunker doors, but for the Engineers working there, I don't think the ultimate outcome was ever in doubt.

A common assumption is that the overall rate of flooding had somehow slowed and that the flooding of BR#5 began an increase in flooding that doomed the ship. Wilding's calculations had Titanic sinking well before she did. The RINA article by Hackett and Bedford used the same assumptions as Wilding and came to the same conclusion. They had to tinker with the rate of flooding to get the timeline to come out right, so maybe they used the wrong set of assumptions? One thing that is taken as a given is that #3 hold was flooded to the water line almost immediately. This is based on the water seen in the mail hold and assumed to have come up from below. What if #3 hold flooded from top down, via a wound in the mail hold itself, and wasn't completely flooded until much later? I don't know that anyone has looked at that scenario vis-a-vis the flooding timeline. In any case, I don't think that what Barrett saw in BR#5 is what changed the outcome.

How does that quote from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie go? "I am not your enemy. Gravity is your enemy." (Said just before dropping some unfortunate soul from the top of a building.)

Cal
 

Erik Wood

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Cal said: One thing that is taken as a given is that #3 hold was flooded to the water line almost immediately. This is based on the water seen in the mail hold and assumed to have come up from below. What if #3 hold flooded from top down, via a wound in the mail hold itself, and wasn't completely flooded until much later?

I find this most interesting. Perhaps you could tell us a little more about this theory?? This is something that was discussed in Toledo this year and in Topeka last year and sounds very interesting.
 

Cal Haines

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Well, that's it in a nutshell. All we really know about #3 hold is that water was seen in the mail hold early on. Does that mean it came up from below or in through the side? In the latter case, the critical amount of water necessary to founder Titanic would not be reached until later in time. I haven't attempted to do the necessary calculations to see where it leads, but I think it's worth a look.

Cal
 
Nov 6, 2004
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Hello, all. I have learned an awful lot reading this board for ages, most from answers to questions I never would have thought to ask. You all are remarkable sources of Titanic and nautical knowledge. I'm finally taking the plunge, so hopefully this is worthy.

This Geological Society of America news release mentions an engineer's theory that the coal fire influenced Titanic's speed and subsequent iceberg encounter.

Was the fire out before Sunday night? I don't know enough about coal bunker management to comment on the rest, but it seems like kind of a stretch (he does say it's "speculative"). Thank you for any insight.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Nothing new about that article I'm afraid and largely wrong. Coal fires were common enough on coal fired ships, but in reality amounted to little more then an annoyance when they happened. The one on Titanic was never a threat and was handled by the usual means of shoveling coal in the effected bunker into the furnaces then hosing it down once they reached it. A bear of a job, but no really big deal. You may want to check out This Article By Cal Haines as it goes over the claims made then showcases the reality.

The fire was out by the 13th and had nothing to do with the Titanic increasing speed. This would have happened anyway as the engines were run in with an eye to keeping to the schedule.
 
Nov 6, 2004
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Thank you, Michael, for the explanation and link. I thought I had read the fire was put out well before the disaster, and the rest of the guy's theory didn't hit me as quite right (not an informed opinion on my part, but still). Too bad his presentation wasn’t more accurate.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Quite right, it is too bad. It's not as if this was much of a secret and primary sources such as the inquiries themselves are easily available. Unfortunately, I've noticed that at least some of the figures who make the biggest splash in the media tend to have the least idea as to what it is they're talking about.
 
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"...some of the figures who make the biggest splash in the media tend to have the least idea as to what it is they're talking about."


Bingo.
 

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