[More from the book "The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters," edited by Logan Marshall and first published in 1912. Click on the "Titanic" tag for other selections from this book.]
The Fire in the Coal Bunkers
Unknown to the passengers, the Titanic was on fire from the day she sailed from Southampton. Her officers and crew knew it, for they had fought the fire for days.
This story, told for the first time by the survivors of the crew, was only one of the many thrilling tales of the fateful first voyage.
'The Titanic sailed from Southampton on Wednesday, April 10th, at noon,' said J. Dilley, fireman on the Titanic. 'I was assigned to the Titanic from the Oceanic, where I had served as a fireman. From the day we sailed the Titanic was on fire, and my sole duty, together with eleven other men, had been to fight that fire. We had made no headway against it.'
'Of course,' he went on, 'the passengers knew nothing of the fire. Do you think we'd have let them know about it? No, sir.'
The fire started in bunker No. 6. There were hundreds of tons of coal stored there. The coal on top of the bunker was wet, as all the coal should have been, but down at the bottom of the bunker the coal had been permitted to get dry.______________________
The dry coal at the bottom of the pile took fire, and smoldered for days. The wet coal on top kept the flames from coming through, but down in the bottom of the bunkers the flames were raging.
Two men from each watch of stokers were tolled off, to fight that fire. The stokers worked four hours at a time, so twelve of us were fighting flames from the day we put out of Southampton until we hit the iceberg.
No, we didn't get that fire out, and among the stokers there was talk that we'd have to empty the big coal bunkers after we'd put our passengers off in New York, and then call on the fire-boats there to help us put out the fire.
The stokers were alarmed over it, but the officers told us to keep our mouths shut--they didn't want to alarm the passengers.
The coal fire on board Titanic fueled speculation of its contribution to her sinking: link
Apparently, such coal fires were common on board steamships and hastened the switch to diesel fuel.