THE GREAT CONFLAGRATION AT SAN FRANCISCO.
THIS IS HOW THE STORY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO FIRE APPEARED IN FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING OF APRIL 28, 1906.
Terrible Loss of Life and Property Caused by Earthquake and Fire.
Special correspondence of FIRS AND WATER ENGINEERING.
It is not often that any city is visited with a double scourge, such as that from the violence of whose stroke San Francisco is still reeling. It is tme that earthquakes have oftentimes been accompanied with a tidal wave, which has caused great loss of life and wrought terrible destruction of property. But somehow or another the horror of such a disaster does not seem to strike home so forcibly as one in which fire and dames play such a conspicuous role. Death by drowning, even by lving swallowed up quick or having the life crushed out by the fall of a huge pile of masonry, dreadful as it is to read about, does not seem to inspire the same idea of terror and torture as death by fire, and a fire. too. that creeps along and devours its wretched victims when they are powerless to escape from or resist its approach. Such, however, was the fate meted out to the majority of the unfortunates, be they only 300 or be they 1,000 or more (we shall probably never know the number of those who perished). during these terrible days at San Francisco. Of itself, such a combination was awful enough and singular enough. But. when the other accompaniments of the disaster are taken into consideration, it assumes a phase that places it in a class by itself. In the first place, there was the earthquake—the worst that San Francisco and its neighborhood bad ever experienced. And. as if with a singular perversity of fate, the one city official that was rendered incapable of service was Fire Chief Sullivan, the man most needed to command the army of firefighters In this way. therefore as well as in the crippling of some of its apparatus at the start, the city received a knockdown blow. With its commander put out of the fight, before be or his soldiers were able even to consider how they should meet the foe. much less put him to flight, the army itself was left headless, with its guiding spirit taken from it and its leader laid low on his bed of death. Then it came to pass that, when the men and their apparatus were on the ground, they found themselves with their weapons, indeed, on hand, but deprived of the necessary ammunition. Under the streets lay the mains, twisted, distorted, broken by the violence of the shock, which had caused the earth to sink away from below and had thrown upon them a superincumbent mass of dèbris, tons upon tons of brick, iron, granite and marble, which completed the ruin the sinkage had caused, and, rupturing the mains had caused the water to flow away in torrents and deluge other towns, while in San Francisco there was not left a drop to throw upon the flames, save in the neighborhood of the water-front, where the fireboats and tugs could be placed in operation. Wherever the firemen could lay their hose and the engines could pump the water through it. the task was rendered all the heavier and the more dangerous by the fall of the different buildings and the impossibility of counteracting the effects of friction, the water having to be forced, as in one case certainly, through a mile of hose before a stream could be thrown from the nozzle. It was. therefore, no wonder that the firemen who were thus handicapped in every way. could do no more than fight a continuously losing battle. And, when to this are added the further considerations that during these four weary days they knew not what it was to eat. or drink, or sleep, and that, when they had recourse to dynamite and explosives to do the work expected of the water, even that other resource would often fail them, and they had to wait for hours till a fresh supply could be brought them, the marvel is, not that they did not save the whole city, but that they saved even as much as they did. And this, all the more that the buildings in many sections of the city not only formed a most congested area, in which the exposure hazard reigned, hut. also, being for the most part of wood, added more and more fuel to the flames. It is true that the iron and steelframed skyscrapers and taller buildings stood up stoutly, and defied the earthquake: but. when it came to the flames forming a seething mass round them, there is no room for astonishment at the fact that the raging conflagration, aided by n strong wind and with nothing to oppose its onward march, quickly accomplished what the earthquake had failed to effect. The firemen did their best, and to Assistant Chief Dougherty and his noble army of martyrs—for martyrs they were in will, at least, if not in deed, and some are reported to have fallen at their post of duty—all praise is due. For some reasons these awful results had been anticipated for a long time. Chief Sullivan had over and over again protested against permission being given to build frame houses within the fire limits, and the underwriters a year ago had pointed out how San Francisco had in that way and in others “violated all underwriting traditions and precedent by not burning up.”and claimed that only its excellent fire department and the vigilance of its chief and other officers had averted a calamity which, after all. could not be staved off indefinitely. For ordinary service in a city of some 400,000 or more inhabitants and with some risks even greater than they should have been. San Francisco was fairly well prepared. In some portions of the city, however, and these the most congested, the water pressure was inadequate. Yet there was water enough in lake Mercede and the springs of San Mateo that formed the Spring Valley company’s source of supply, if only it could have been brought to bear upon the flames, and if the company had not been too sparing in laying larger mains in those spots where the firemen could have worked successfully, if the water pressure had only been adequate. The city was not dependent upon one reservoir alone, nor was thereservoir capacity (29.000,000.000 gallons) or its pumping capacity (59.000,000 gallons for a consumption of 35.000,000 gallons daily) so limited. The trouble the fire department generally had on other occasions was to get water enough to serve their purpose. That, and the character of the buildings, joined to the peculiarities of the site of the city were enough to render vain the efforts of any firemen in certain districts of the town. The department is thoroughly equipped and has always borne a high reputation for good work and efficiency. As to equipment: It was up to the mark. It comprised fifty-six steamers, nine hook and ladder trucks, nine chemical engines, one combination chemical and hose wagon, four turret-batteries. and some 120,000 feet of hose. The firefighting force was 500 strong—all brave men and skilled in their calling—each one able to give a good account of himself (as each one did last week) in the day of battle. The lesson is obvious. The new city must have a better water service, its fire department must be still further strengthened, the building laws must be revised (and lived up to) in the line of forbidding the erection of wooden structures, and ordering the construction to be not only of a style that shall resist as far as can be the force of earthquakes, but also such as shall be fire-resistant; and for each purpose steel and concrete seem to be the materials suggested. The height of the buildings should also be a point not to be ignored. In a city so subject to earthnuakc shocks as San Francisco is, it would seem, the wiser course to eschew now the erection of buildings of more than three stories—two would be better, and these very solid. As for attempting to describe the scenes accompanying l>oth earthquake and fire in the doomed city, to give even a sketch would exceed the amount of space that can be spared. It has already been so fully written up in every paper in the country that anything more would he superfluous. The accompanying illustrations tell the tale more graphically than the pen of the readiest writer. One. reproduced from the New York American, shows the “hub” of San Francisco, looking west on Market street from Kearny, Third and Gearv It also shows the buildings of the Examiner, Call (Sorcckles). Chronicle. Mutual Fife—the Lubin building (silk house). The fire is working towards the St. Francis hotel, which has been destroved since the picture was taken. Another illustration, reproduced from the New York Times gives a bird’s eye view of the burned city and particularises the principal buildings in such a to show their exact location, giving at the same time a very good idea of their general appearance and value. From it the reader can well imagine that the loss will easily reach $150,000,000 (probably it is much greater), and that threefourths, or possibly two-thirds of the city has been ruined. As to the loss of life: The number of the dead can never be known. The military count brings it up to 300; the coroner, to 1,000 more or less. In neither case have the dead reached the figure of Lisbon’s 45,000. or the 116,000 of Yeddo, or the thousands that perished in the Mont Pelèe or the Hawaian Island eruptions and earthquakes. As to the pecuniary loss: That has yet to be determined. If it reaches $200,000,000 it will have considerably exceeded Chicago’s loss of $196,672,000 in 1871,. and will go down into history a* the greatest that has ever been sustained as yet by any city in the new world If it is set down at $150,000,000. it will still far outtop Boston’s loss of $61,171,300 in 1872. and Baltimore’s $50,000,000 in 1904. It is certainly the worst loss of life and the most disastrous from a property standpoint that has ever fallen upon any city or town on the Pacific coast.
DESCRIPTION BY AN EYE WITNESS.
An eyewitness of the fire sends to FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING the following lifelike account of what he saw, and what he himself can vouch for:
“I was in San Francisco at the time, stopping at the Palace Hotel, and. when the first shock came. I dressed myself and went into the street. In about ten minutes fires scented to break out in all the big buildings south of Market street, and at seven o’clock in the morning I saw that the city was doomed, as there was not a drop of water to be got at any of the fireplugs. The watermains were broken in all parts of the city, and the principal supply, which comes under the bay through two pipe lines, did not give a bit of water. We were without fresh water for over thirty hours, and. berlieve me. when I tell you that what little water we had to drink we scooped up from the gutters and seemed to he supplied by broken mains. One does not realise what it is to be where the ground was shaking every minute and surrounded by a heat from the fire that wasunendurable—and without water at that. When I left San Francisco tonight not a house in the city was standing, except in a few cases. Possibly not fifty houses escaped the fire. There are possibly 450,000 people tonight in San Francisco without knowing where to lay their heads! “Yours truly,
“A SACRAMENTO SUBSCRIBER.’
DEATH OF CHIEF SULLIVAN.
It was hoped against hope that Chief D. T. Sullivan, of the San Francisco fire department, would survive the terrible injuries he received On the morning of the earthquake in that city. The chimney of the enginehouse No. 2, adjoining the California hotel, on Bush street, collapsed, and fell crashing through the roof and floors of the station. Chief Sullivan and his wife, who were asleep in bed. were carried with the debris two stories to the ground floor, where they were extricated after great difficulty. They hey were at once taken to the Southern Pacific hospital; but, when the flames reached the Mission district, they were again moved, this time to the general hospital at the Presidio. Chief Sullivan was suffering from a fractured skull, four broken ribs, and other injuries. He never knew there was a fire. After recovering consciousness he showed great interest in the affairs of the city, being always apprehensive that a tire would start. He knew from the first, that he was dying from his injuries. hut never forgot the interests of his department. His mind seemed to dwell on the need of a salt-water firefighting plant, and he repeatedly spoke to his friends of the increasing necessity for such an adjunct to the fire department of the city. Mrs. Sullivan, who suffered serious injuries, has progressed satisfactorily, and it is expected that she will recover. The deceased chief, who was in his fifty-eighth year, and has Iwen variously set down as a native of Florence, N. J., and of Randolph, Mass., where it is said he was a druggist, first served as a fireman at Utica, N. Y., whence he removed to San Francisco in 1874. Two years afterwards he entered the fire department of that city as a member of engine company No. 3. He became stoker of engine No. 12 in 1879: hydrantman in 1880; battalion chief in 1891: and on the death of Chief David Scannell, on March 30. 1903, succeeded to his office.
At Pittsfield. Mass., the permanent firemen are to be in future paid as follows: First year, $750 second. $800; third, $850: every year after, $900; engineers, $100 additional.