It was a warm spring Saturday in New York City, March 25, 1911. On the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building just off of Washington Square, employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory began putting away their work as the 4:45 p.m. quitting time approached. Most of the several hundred Triangle Shirtwaist employees were teenage girls. Most were recent immigrants. Many spoke only a little English.
Just then somebody on the eighth floor shouted, "Fire!" Flames leapt from discarded rags between the first and second rows of cutting tables in the hundred- foot-by-hundred-foot floor. Triangle employee William Bernstein grabbed pails of water and vainly attempted to put the fire out. As a line of hanging patterns began to burn, cries of "fire" erupted from all over the floor. In the thickening smoke, as several men continued to fling water at the flames, the fire spread everywhere--to the tables, the wooden floor trim, the partitions, the ceiling.