On the 9th February 1942, a fire started in the grand saloon. Workmen were removing the last of the metal stanchions that had supported the “glass fountains of light” when a spark from the cutters blowtorch landed on a highly flammable kapok filled lifejacket. Soon the fire had spread with a vengeance.
Since the Normandie was being stripped to become the troopship “Lafayette,” most of the safety features (telephones, fire alarms, water pumps etc) had been disassembled. The ship was defenceless. The New York Fire Department was not called until twelve minutes after the fire had started. The highly flammable bales caught fire instantly.
There were 3000 workers onboard at the time all working on the transformation. They had to be evacuated before action by the authorities could commence.
The fire brigade, although doing their job, exacerbated the problem facing the Normandie. Fireboats and firemen were filling the ship with so much water that a severe portside list developed. Water started tom pour in through the cargo doors that were still open.
During the night, the Normandie turned onto her side. She would remain in this position for the next eighteen months until the US government had carried out no less than 6 investigations as to who was to blame for the “accident”.
The US Navy thought that a salvage operation would prove to be invaluable and if successful would still possess a 1000 foot troopship after repairs. Unfortunately, after a $4.74 million salvage operation it became clear that the hull had suffered extensive damage and would beyond economic repair.
The Normandie was sold for scrap and the fixtures and fittings stored in the warehouse were auctioned off.
Another life of a great liner was taken.