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October 23, 2012

Essay on San Francisco Fire

San Francisco fire after earthquake 1906

It is the gold to which San Francisco owes its fortune. Discovered in 1848, the year in which Mexico cedes California to the United States, the precious metal concealed in the Rocky Mountains caused a stampede towards the West. Small village in 1848, San Francisco is already a city of 50,000 people two years later. In 1906, became the ninth U.S. city with 250,000 inhabitants - nearly half the population of California - this modern and elegant, half of whose inhabitants were not born in California, saw something quite different than the gold panning or mining. Proud of its 20 theaters and the opera, she is even more of its business district, where banks and trading houses thrive in the shade of the large newly built City Hall. Indeed, far more than the earthquake itself, which, despite its amplitude (8.2 degrees on the Richter scale, which counts 9), only a few casualties occurred in a city where buildings were still mostly of wood but it was the fire that triggered the catastrophe.(Burgan, 2008)

Huge fire after earthquake

  For some, it was the escape of sparks created by the earthquake which caught the fire, , for others it was overturned kerosene lamps that became the source of the flames in a city where the main construction material was highly combustible, a thousand reasons why the fire ignited. The damage caused by fire was a thousand times more serious than originally caused the earthquake.

Half an hour after the quake, in any case, there were already 50 fires. The fire raged for two days later, destroying half the city, killing 450 people, chasing 200 000 other homes. The city faced lack of water - the pipes were ruptured during the earthquake - the authorities could do nothing: the firefighters attending the scene on the occasion rendered nearly helpless in the face of the fire.
 The administration was content to stay temporarily homeless in tents which were hastily installed in the large city park. The army, under these conditions, took things in hand. The head of the garrison commander Funston, declared martial law and orders to shoot looters on sight who would try benefit from the general panic.
Faced with the inability of firefighters, the same man decided after seeing the blasting large-scale buildings to save the neighborhoods still unaffected. Within hours, people were losing the most beautiful street in the city, Van Ness Avenue, whose facades were their pride.
This sacrifice could protect the west of the city, but the neighborhood, on both sides of Market Street, was on fire: the wharves and warehouses on the bay, the business district and the Chinatown were completely destroyed.

On the 18th April, the earthquake shook the earth in San Francisco.The short foreshock was felt throughout the Bay Area. About 25 seconds after the tremors began 47 seconds ongoing major quake with a magnitude of about 7.8 on the Richter scale (which did not exist back then, got on the Rossi-Forel scale, which was then applied, ranging from 1 to 10, the quake, the starch is traditionally given the ninth value of 8.3 on the Richter scale, which recent calculations but not withstanding). The epicenter was off the coast of Pacifica. The strong horizontal thrusts were accompanied by enormous vertical impacts, which are made due to the different geological ground conditions in the surrounding areas very strongly felt - a scientific knowledge that would later contribute significantly to understanding of the geological processes. The tremors, which spread to 7,000 miles per hour were felt from Oregon to South-South-Central Los Angeles and Nevada. This was followed by 26 aftershocks on the same day.
 Quake itself was dreadful but what followed was even worse. It resulted in the several days of raging fire storm (even the water pipes broke up to a single burst) .As many as 3000 people lost their lives and  about 225,000 people were injured, the damage to property was $ 524,000,000 (the then value) And 20 million by the quake itself, the rest by the fire storm. Earthquake shattered main gas lines. 490 roads with 28130 houses in the city center were completely destroyed. Over 225,000 residents were left homeless and had to leave the city either by ferry or temporarily living in a tent city for 20,000 residents in what is now known as Golden Gate Park.
In the largest evacuation operation by sea from Dunkirk in the 2nd World War on 20 April total of 20,000 refugees to the USS Chicago transported from the city.

General Frederick Funston declared martial law and eventually managed to bring the fire by blowing up whole blocks around the fire under control after attempts to blow up individual homes or individual units were unsuccessful. Only the onset of rain on 21 April finally brought all the fires under control and extinguished it completely.

The best impression of the natural disaster is obtained when one reads through some eye-witness reports:

John Farish, a miner, who was staying at the St. Francis Hotel, remembers the early morning of 18 April:

"I was awakened by a loud rumbling noise, which sounded like the mixed sounds of a heavy storm, chasing through the woods, and compare themselves to a cliff breaking waves. The shock was as big as a powerful explosion. The buildings were shocked to its foundations.”
A few blocks away in a luxury suite at the Palace Hotel after a bravura performance at the Opera House one night fell asleep before the world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso Star. He reports:
It was all in the space itself. The chandelier was trying to touch the ceiling and the chairs pursued each other. Crash-crash-crash! It was a horrible scene. Everywhere the walls were down and clouds of yellow dust rose up. My God! I thought it would never end.”

At the same time, the future police Chief Jesse Cook reported from another part of town:

"The whole road was corrugated. It was as if waves of the sea come to me and pile up."

People flocked from their homes in the dark streets, some crying, most still in night attire. Others were caught in the completely out of whack buildings whose doors could not open it. These were the lucky ones. South of Market, an area known as "South of the Slot" consisted entirely of volatile cobbled together, unstable homes and cheap hotels, some with five floors with hundreds of small rooms. Block after block of the wooden building was built on reclaimed land that was formerly part of the Mission Bay marshes. Many of these buildings collapsed and buried hundreds, perhaps thousands of people under huge piles of rubble.

In the first seconds of the quake killed dozens of people in different parts of the city in their beds by chimneys, which broke through the ceiling. Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan lived on the third floor of the fire station in the Bush Street between Grant and Kearney. In the first moment of the quake, he was jumped out of bed to check on his wife, who slept in another room. Chimneys of the California Hotel, on the other side of the street crashed through the roof of the firehouse, and had a whole series of falling stones break Sullivan and his wife up to the first floor. He suffered serious head and chest injuries where he died several days later.

Within minutes, fire broke out by broken gas pipes, stoves and lanterns fallen. There was no fire alarm or the alarm system, located on Brenham Place in Chinatown, was operated by wet-cell batteries that were in jars on shelves. Each of the glasses had already been dropped and broken in seconds.
The firemen, however, sensed the danger. They could see the flames in the dark. They mounted their horses and fire trucks and headed to the nearest fire hydrant - but no water came out. All but a main water pipe had broken, and 302 million liters of water seeped into the ground. (Slavicek
, 2008)

The city had 24 tanks, relics from the days of the gold rush, the stockpiled each 60500-378000 liters of water. But only the oldest of the firefighters still knew their location. Fire Chief Sullivan had worked out a plan for a serious fire emergency that included the location of the tanks, and a timetable according to which fire departments should pump water from the Bay. But the chief was dying and the fire brigades were leaderless and had to brace on their own.

At seven o clock in the morning the city was in complete chaos. Fires were burning out of control through the tinder burning as south of the Slot. Columns of smoke were visible from every hill. Thousands of people crowded on Market Street, some took their belongings with as many as they could carry, to move toward Ferry Building of the city. People who would not leave their most valuable possession left pianos down the road. Roland Roche, a postal worker described the scene:

"Horses, men, women and children filled the streets and ... it was difficult to move through the crowded streets and dense traffic: prams, cars, horses, cart - anything that had wheels was used."

The tallest building in the city, the 22-story Call Building - home of the newspaper The Morning Call "- stood on the corner of Third and Market Street. It was only nine years earlier, built according to best construction technologies of the time of steel and sandstone Oregon for $ 1 million and was considered as earthquake-proof. It had survived the quake very well; a few terracotta cladding had fallen from the facade to the street. But the fires in South of the Slot had become a firestorm that devoured everything that came its way.

The Hearst Building on the street the call was an attempt to build a fire barrier and so the Palace Hotel to save (with his private water reservoirs of some 300,000 liters), was blown up, a waste of action, as it turned out.

Columns of smoke could be seen from 160 miles away. In every block of the city covered the sky and smoke hid the sun. Journalist Henry Lafler, who wrote for McClure's Magazine, had set up his typewriter in an empty table on the Portsmouth Plaza and described the appearance of fire:

"All colors and shades were available. It turned out for a moment a pale, clear yellow, then a fiery red, it was perfect shades of blue, purple, green and rose. Then came the dark, menacing, demonic colors, hateful as hell.” (Morris, 2008)

As night came on a quarter of the 400,000 residents of the city were left homeless. The Ham and Eggs Fire jumped Market Street at midnight and joined with the South of the Slot fire.
It rained Saturday night, 21 April, and next morning the air was clear with the exception of the smoke that rose from the steaming hot ruins. Block to block consisted of nothing but charred black ruins - a wall here, a doorway there. Nothing was recognizable. There were no known features on which one could orient them. The houses that were still standing were burnt to its cores.  

                                                  Aftermath and Reconstruction

Within a few days supplies of food and other materials gathered from other cities by train, reached when the news of San Francisco's tragedy disseminated to the rest of the nation. The slow process of reconstruction of the largest city began on the west coast.
Since the Fillmore Street remained virtually undamaged it rediscovered in coming months the economic and political life of the city.

The rebuilding of San Francisco was quickly equipped with American support in just a few years. On the flag of San Francisco is ready to buy a phoenix that rises from the ashes. The residents of the city quickly erased the memory of the catastrophe. Barely a month later, the most famous citizen of the city, William Randolph Hearst (the newspaper magnate that inspired the filmmaker Orson Welles's film Citizen Kane), brought Sarah Bernhardt: French actress who played Adnene Lecouvreur in the outdoor theater in Berkeley.
The city rebuilt quickly, is even more beautiful. New construction techniques involving concrete and steel used to design a completely new city, made of skyscrapers. In the summer of 1915, the opening of the Panama Canal was an opportunity to organize a major exhibition: 19 million visitors came to admire San Francisco’s reconstruction. Despite this, even today, the catastrophe of 1906 occupies an important place in the collective memory of residents of San Francisco. As before her, Lisbon in 1755 or after it, Tokyo in 1923, San Francisco came in the category of cities martyrs of earthquakes. Some even attribute to the constant threat of earthquakes new carefree and whimsical character of a city whose atmosphere is unique today in the United States.

San Francisco has stood at the spot where the Spaniards in the eighteenth century, founded a colony that they dedicated to St. Francis (Spanish: San Francisco) from Assisi. In the years following their installation, the settlers faced many earthquakes that destroyed their building. In 1849, the gold rush in California. San Francisco is expanding rapidly. To build, it drains and backfill the marsh. In some older neighborhoods the houses are still made of wood. April 18, 1906 at 5:00 am, people are still sleeping. Suddenly, the whole city seems to rise and trembles like a ship in a storm. A roar rises from the depths of the soil. Houses collapse. Cries of fears rise amid clouds of dust. Men, women and children rushed into the street in night clothes, under terror. Chimneys collapsed: many are crushed under the rubble.
Buildings constructed on swampy ground are particularly affected. The Palace Hotel, the glory of the West, was completely razed, the city hall, there was only a rickety ruin. Disaster victims, their families scrambled for food and shelter desperately. Looters were shot on the spot.
A committee of fifty citizens was formed to bring order into this chaos, prevent epidemics, to avoid starvation. The behavior of people was admirable. Doctors and nurses provided first aid. Food, clothing, blankets were distributed. A thick layer of ashes still burning prevented the flow in many streets, but residents of San Francisco were determined to revive their city as quickly as possible. Back to business, under tents, shops set up on the sidewalks cleared, and though there was little to sell but everything went in the right mood.
Due to the rapid reconstruction which was a triumph over the ravages of nature, San Francisco was the venue for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, a sleek architectural fantasy on 250 acres on the occasion of the opening of the Panama Canal, which is now the Marina District. A short time after the great success of the exhibition were - with the exception of the domed pavilion of the Palace of Fine Arts (site of the Exploratorium) - their reinforced with steel plaster wall-building with bulldozers razed to the ground. 
In 1920, first plan for the construction of bridges was proposed that would connect San Francisco with the East Bay and Marin. Finally, they began in the early 30's work on the Bay Bridge, which was opened in 1936.


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