Water-intake crib disaster:
On January 20, 1909, during the construction of a water intake tunnel for the city of Chicago, a fire broke out on a temporary water crib, used to access an intermediate point along the tunnel. Water cribs are offshore structures that collect water from close to the bottom of a lake to supply a pumping station onshore. The temporary water crib was located a mile and a half off shore in Lake Michigan, and was being used to construct a new submarine water tunnel to Chicago. There were about 95 men working on the crib when the fire began, in a dynamite magazine stored in a small out building. This then set fire to the wooden dormitory that housed the tunnel workers. With literally nowhere to run to safety, 46 workers survived the fire by jumping into the lake and climbing onto ice floes on the frozen lake. However, about 60 men died, with 29 men burned beyond recognition.
Most of the remaining men drowned or froze to death in the lake, and were not recovered. One of the workmen made his way through the smoke to a telephone that communicated with the shore station. His frantic call awakened the drowsy attendant on shore who heard the following call for help: “The crib is on fire! For God’s sake send help at once or we will be burned alive! The tug” — At this point communication ceased. On shore, through the fog, the flames of the blaze could be seen rising from the water crib. The crew of the tugboat Morford made a heroic effort to save the men and fought through the ice, getting as close to the site of the fire and explosion as they could get. They rescued a few survivors in a boat, and plucked others from the water or the ice floes.