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1906 San Francisco Fire Department Operations Overview

San Francisco
August 1, 1906

At the fire which destroyed the building at the northwest corner of Mission and 22nd streets immediately after the earthquake, there was no water to be had east of Valencia Street, but the double hydrant at the northwest corner of 22nd and Valencia and the southwest corner of Valencia and 21st St. furnished an abundant supply, which, with the aid of the cistern at 22nd and Shotwell St., extinguished the fire.

At the fire at the northwest corner of Hayes and Laguna streets, almost immediately after the earthquake, the water in the hydrant at that corner gave out after a few minutes, but a good supply was obtained at the corner of Buchanan and Hayes streets.

At the fire at Golden Gate Ave. and Buchanan St., shortly afterwards, the nearest water obtainable was from the two hydrants at Buchanan and Eddy streets, by means of which the fire was extinguished.

At the fire at Fulton and Octavia a little water was obtained from the hydrant at Fulton and Laguna streets, which gave out within minutes, but the fire was put out by a stream led from Buchanan and Hayes streets, by putting three engines in one line.

The fire which started at Hayes and Gough, several hours after the earthquake, got beyond control by reason of there being no water available within reach, and it swept over the Western Addition east of Octavia and south of Golden Gate Ave.; crossed over Market St. near Ninth, and burned out into the Mission until finally stopped at Twentieth St. by the aid of the cistern at 19th and Shotwell streets and one hydrant at Church and 20th streets, which had water. This fire was prevented from crossing golden Gate Ave. by streams led from hydrants on Eddy St., where there was water. It was also stopped at Octavia St. by streams from Buchanan St. and it was prevented from crossing Dolores St. by volunteers, by means of buckets of water and sacks.

The break in the 24-inch main on Howard St. [now Van Ness Ave., South] at the crossing of 17th, washed out a large hole from which four engines draughted for 16 hours, and thus confined the fire to the west side of Howard St. between Fifteenth and Nineteenth. The well and pump of Mr. [John] Center were also of material assistance in checking the fire in that neighborhood, while the saltwater supply of the United Railroads at Eleventh and Bryant streets was instrumental in saving the Fire Department stables [on Division St.] and surrounding property.

At the fire on Folsom St. near Sixth a little water was obtained from the hydrant at Sixth and Folsom streets by draughting from the main, and when this gave out, water was obtained for some time by draughting from the sewers, which were full of water from the broken mains at Seventh and Howard streets, but the fire had reached too great proportions to be stopped by one or two streams, and the companies were forced to retire step by step until the fire was checked at Townsend St. by draughting from the channel.

The fire which started at Fifth and Minna streets and in the electric light works on Jessie St. near Third, which soon merged into one, were stopped from crossing Market St. by means of two small streams from the north side of Market St., where the pressure, ordinarily above 85 pounds, was about ten pounds.

When the fire broke out in the Chinese wash house on Howard St. near Third, Engine Co. 4, whose quarters were across the street, could obtain no water from the hydrant, and was obliged to go to the cistern at Folsom and Second streets, from where a stream was obtained by doubling up with Engine Co. 10. This cistern was soon exhausted, and Engine 35 soon took the cistern at Folsom and First streets, and pumped to other engines, and after this was also exhausted Engine Co. 35 retired to the cistern at First and Harrison streets. The fire had reached such proportions, however, that this cistern, although having a capacity of 100,000 gallons, was drained without checking it, and the companies were forced to go to the foot of Third St., where by draughting from the Bay, the fire was prevented from crossing Townsend St.

At Market and Beale streets, Engine Co. 1 obtained a little water for a short time, but nothing less than a dozen powerful streams could have stopped the fire that was in progress there. The same may be said of the fire that broke out at the same time at Steuart and Market streets, which, however, was checked at Howard St. by streams from the fire boats, assisted by two companies from Oakland. Engine Co. 1 also obtained water from the hydrant at Davis and California streets, and worked single-handed on a fire adjoining that corner for which, under ordinary conditions, a third alarm would have been sent in. In a short time this fire got beyond control and went to Market St. and the company was obliged to retire.

Engine Co. 12 obtained water for some time at the southeast corner of Clay and Davis streets, and worked on a fire at Davis and Washington streets, but could not control it. Nor water was obtainable from the hydrants west of Davis St., and as the fire crept up toward Sansome St., the available companies took suction from the cisterns at Montgomery and California streets, Montgomery and Commercial and Pacific and Sansome streets. When these were exhausted, they retired to the cisterns at Dupont [now Grant Ave.] and California and Dupont and Washington streets. When all these cisterns were exhausted, while the fire was still advancing, these companies went up to Powell St. and obtained water for some time from the hydrants at Powell and California, Powell and Sacramento and Powell and Clay streets. After a while these hydrants ran dry and the companies were forced to retire. Then the cistern at California and Mason streets was made use of in a desperate but unsuccessful effort to save the Hopkins Art Institute.

While this fire was sweeping up the hill other companies were fighting back the Hayes Valley fire, which had swept through the City Hall and was advancing north of Market St. to Golden Gate Ave. Water was obtained from the hydrants on the line of O'Farrell St. from Jones west, and the fire was checked in the vicinity of Eddy St., when the other fire sweeping down the hill, forced the companies to retreat to Van Ness Ave. A good supply of water was obtained from hydrants at the southwest corner of Eddy and Van Ness Ave. and at the northwest corner of Ellis and Van Ness Ave. but from Ellis north to Jackson there were no hydrants on the west side of Van Ness Ave., and the hydrants on Franklin St. were dry. The stream from Ellis and Van Ness Ave. was able to reach as far as Geary St., and from there north to California St., the character of the buildings the fire was crossing, [words missing from typescript] but the building at the northwest corner of California and Van Ness Ave. caught fire from sparks from the Knickerbocker Hotel across the street, while the companies were still working south of Geary St. It was found that the nearest hydrant from which water could be obtained was at Bush and Laguna streets, and in order to reach the fire on California St., four engines had to be put in line. By the time this was done, the fire had crossed Sacramento and California streets and was burning up to Franklin St. in three blocks; when it was almost checked there, fire suddenly broke out in Kelly's stable on the south side of Pine St. near Franklin, and on account of the large frame buildings on the west side of Franklin St. there was great danger that the fire would cross that street and get beyond control. By the greatest exertion enough hose was brought up from the lower end of Van Ness Ave., with three engines in line, thus finally checking the fire at Sutter St. Meanwhile the fire was spreading north unchecked on the east side of Van Ness Ave. until it reached Vallejo St., where Engine Co. 3, securing water from the hydrant at Green and Gough streets, and pumping to Engine Co. 20, fought the fire back to Polk St., only to lose its water at a critical time and be forced to move to Union and Gough.

While this was going on, a line was led from a U.S. Government boat at the foot of Van Ness Ave. up to Green and Van Ness Ave., with two engines in between, but did not prove effective for a while, and the fire caught several houses on the west side of Van Ness Ave. near Green St. just the time when the hydrant at Gough and Green streets gave out. When water was obtained at Union and Gough streets, however, these houses were saved and the danger was over when this hydrant also gave out. After that another stream was led from the boat and the fire was stopped at Union and Van Ness Ave.

In the meantime the fire was spreading over Russian Hill, and descending on the North Beach district. As there was not a drop of water in any of the mains, the companies were forced to resort to the remaining cisterns in that district, most of which had a capacity of only 20,000 gallons and were rapidly exhausted without materially checking the fire. Cisterns were used at Montgomery and Pacific, Dupont and Pacific, Stockton and Pacific, Stockton and Broadway, Powell and Broadway, Stockton and Vallejo and Dupont and Vallejo. A stream was also led from a Government boat at Filbert St. pier to Broadway and Powell streets, but without avail. The fire was then sweeping over Telegraph Hill rendering it impossible to reach the only unused cistern at Dupont and Greenwich streets, and the companies were forced to retire to the Seawall in a final effort to stay the conflagration. Streams were led up Stockton, Powell and Mason streets but the men were steadily driven back, until the fire worked around them to the west, and, driven by a strong west wind which had sprung up, swept down on the Seawall and forced them to beat a hasty retreat to Lombard St., where the fire on the water front was stopped with a stream from a boat, and the Merchants' Cold Storage plant was saved by the same means.

The typescript is not signed, but is enscribed "said to be written by Shaughnessy."
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