The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

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by erinschwalbach
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The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

At 5:13 a.m. on April 18, 1906, a great earthquake hit San Francisco. It was felt from Southern Oregon all the way down to south of Los Angeles. The massive earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8, and several people gave eyewitness accounts after, such as Jerome B. Clark, who said, “The streets in places had sunk three or four feet, in others great humps had appeared four of five feet high.” Though the earthquake had lasted only minutes, it ignited several fires. Some observers claimed that the fire could actually be felt as vibrations like the rumbling of a steam boiler or the passing of several street cars (Remembering the 1906…). These fires lasted for three whole days and nights.

Before the catastrophe hit the city, the population of San Francisco in 1906 was 400,000 people. Much of San Francisco was built on steep hillsides, sand dunes, and former marshes, which was unstable. Also, the city’s building codes didn’t consider seismic activity and buildings were packed together on narrow streets. Only fifty-four of these buildings were fire-proofed at the time of the disaster. Still, despite the danger of the city, many people loved San Francisco, like Rudyard Kipling, who said, “San Francisco has only one drawback. Tis’ hard to leave.”

As a result, the effects on the city and its people were terrible. The disaster left more than 3,000 people dead and 225,000 people were homeless. Roughly 28,000 buildings were destroyed and the estimated property damage was $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars. James Horsburgh Jr. said, “The real calamity in San Francisco was undoubtedly the fire.” It is believed that more or less loss was sustained by nearly every family in the city. (New York Times)

In 1849, James Marshall discovered gold dust in a Sierra Saw Mill and San Francisco became the entrance port to the famed "El Dorado." In less than a year, over 50,000 people came to San Francisco looking for fortune. As a result of the craziness, the city grew up lawless and exuberant. San Francisco's buildings were randomly scattered across the city. Also, some areas in 1906 were built on dirt recovered from the bay.

Furthermore, San Francisco's fire department responded to 52 fire alarms in the first half-hour following the earthquake. The firemen found that they had little water, so the department turned to dynamite. Their intent was to demolish buildings with the dynamite to create firebreaks that would contain the flames. Unfortunately, they were provided with the wrong type of dynamite. Therefore, the dynamite actually fueled the flames instead of stopping them.

My HyperlinksThe Great San Francisco 1906 EarthquakeCasulties and Damage

The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire by: Erin Schwalbach


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