July 9 - 1937 - The 20th Century Fox Film Vault Fire

When the film vault belonging to 20th Century Fox in Little Ferry, New Jersey went up in flames, most people were shocked that a fire happened at all. The building was made to be completely fireproof, to avoid the kind of fires that happened around film. Yet the conflagration in Little Ferry proved that one of the problems in using nitrate film stock was that it could spontaneously combust. This meant a facility with poor ventilation and nitrate film strips stacked next to each other was ripe for a fire once a massive heat wave came through. The building actually caught on fire in the early morning hours, making firefighters slow to respond. Nitrate also lets out oxygen as it burns, making it nearly impossible to put out. Two people died, and five homes were destroyed. As to the films, everything in the vault was lost, including works by stars like Theda Bara, Tom Mix, and Buster Keaton. The fire taught an important lesson in fireproofing film vaults even better, as well as making sure to preserve copies of films in more secure ways.

William Floyd