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Great Fires: 1906 Great Earthquake & Fire

Reports of Fire Officers
San Francisco Fire Department
1906 Great Earthquake & Fire
Battalion Chief J. McCluskey, District No. 1
Housed in Battalion Chief's building at Greenwich and Stockton Streets

On the morning of April 18th, I was in Roselee, a small village four miles east of Fruitvale, Alameda County, on a leave of absence, on account of sickness, which was granted to me by our late Chief D. T. Sullivan. On perceiving that San Francisco was burning I tried to communicate by telephone but failed and only learned from a telephone operator that the City was burning and that the Ferry boats were only carrying passengers from the City. I immediately went to Peterson's Boat House in East Oakland and after considerable delay succeeded in procuring a launch, which landed me at the Harrison St., dock, between 9 and 10 A. M. April 18th. When I reached the Ferry I procured the buggy of Batt. Chief Murphy and driving to my headquarters at Greenwich and Stockton Streets, secured a uniform, and finding Engine #20 at Battery and Pacific Streets took charge. Moving Engine #20 to Pacific and Sansome Streets, to a cistern containing 30,000 gallons. At this time Two engines and three wagons manned about 35 men from the Oakland Fire Department reported to me. I placed an Oakland Engine at Jackson and Sansome Street and led the line from Engine #20 to it, and then led the balance of our hose from an Oakland Engine along Sansome to Washington Streets, where we started putting water on the fire. We worked for hours on the Appraisers Building and also on the building known as the Montgomery Block. On perceiving that the cistern was almost empty we used the water sparingly, distributing it as much as possible to prevent the buildings from catching fire, and after hard work succeeded in stopping the fire at this point. Staying here until the South side of Washington Street was burned down and receiving a report that the Hall of Justice was in immediate danger I had the Oakland Engine moved to Washington and Kearny Streets, Engine #20 to the cistern at Washington and Dupont Streets and pumped to the Oakland Engine where we led a stream to Clay and Kearny Streets and made a stand. Engine #30 reporting at this time, I moved the Oakland Engine to Stockton and Washington Streets to a cistern there and pumping to the cistern at Washington and Dupont Streets where Engine #20 pumped it to Engine #31 at Washington and Kearny Streets, We worked for several hours and finally succeeded in saving the Hall of Justice, only to have it burn after we had left to head off the fire in another direction. Later in the night of the 18th, or nearly in the morning of the 19th, these cisterns becoming empty we moved to another cistern on Pacific and Dupont Streets, one engine located there and another at Stockton and Pacific Streets we led a line south along Dupont Street to where J. Biringham of the California Powder Works was dynamiting the buildings. We stayed here until we were compelled to move as to the two cisterns holding respectively 25,000 to 28,000 gallons were empty. We moved to a cistern on Broadway and Stockton Streets leading a line along Stockton to the South where we worked until late Thursday afternoon trying to prevent the fire from along Stockton, I also ordered Engine #5 to Vallejo and Dupont Streets, where they led a line down to Montgomery Ave., to try and prevent the fire from crossing Pacific Street. At this time the fire was burning from Kearny to Stockton taking both sides of the street, and on account of their being no other cisterns, and no possibility of obtaining any water I sent the Oakland apparatus home; retaining the men and hose and reporting the same to Acting Chief Doherty. The Oakland men were later relieved by 30 fresh men under command of Chief Ball. Receiving a report that the Fire Boat was at the Sea Wall (foot of Stockton St.) I immediately sent men to locate fresh water for the engines and on their finding an abandoned well at Stockton between Union and Filbert Streets and also one at Lombard and Stockton Streets, I located Engine #31 and Engine #5 at Union and Stockton Streets, Engine #28 at Broadway and Stockton, procuring enough hose from the Corporation Yards in addition to our own and the Oakland Hose, we led a line from the Fire Boat to Broadway and Mason Sts. a distance of fourteen blocks, taking about 4,000 feet of hose, the Fire Boat and three engines all pumping on this single line, with this one stream we worked vainly to prevent the fire from crossing the North side of Broadway, we worked down to Montgomery Ave., but our efforts were useless, for the fire crossed Broadway while we were at Powell St., burning our hose and driving Engine #28 out of the intense heat. We got some more hose and led a line up Vallejo to Powell moving Engine #28 back to Lombard and Taylor Streets, but the fire overtook us and we were driven back by the flames. We broke our lines taking out 500 feet and making another stand at Montgomery Ave. and Green Sts. We were again driven back to Union St. and the Plaza. Our water again slackened down so I drove to the Fire Boat in order to ascertain the trouble. We could not obtain any fresh water to feed the boilers so I started in search of some and meeting Com. Wreden who informed me that he could supply us fresh water for a short time. I then drove around to Pacific St., and finding Engine #1 near her quarters I ordered her to the foot of Mason Street. By this time Engine #31, was again in working order and she was sent to Mason and Vandawater Sts., where they stretched a line of hose and awaited for fresh water. Engine #5 having moved from Stockton and to the Wharf I left it in charge of a Captain of one of the Oakland Companies at daybreak on Friday morning April 20th, and told him to use his own judgment as soon as he got water to reach the fire. I then proceeded to Lombard and Taylor Streets and by this time the brewery wagon supplied by Com. Wreden was hauling fresh water to the Engines so we again started to try and check the fire from the South side of Greenwich St., and on the west side of Taylor Street, between Green and Filbert Streets. We now had a fair stream but the heat was so intense that it turned the water into steam before it reached the fire, and the men had to cover themselves with wet sacks in order to stand the intense heat. After working for about two hours we were told that the fire had broken out on the North side of Lombard St. between Montgomery Ave. and Mason St., and if we could come down there and play our stream for a short time we could save the block; we did so but was of no use for the fire came raging down Stockton St. reaching from Filbert and Taylor Sts. We then went back to Taylor and Greenwich Streets where we worked until sometime in the afternoon, here our hose was burnt and our water was shut off on Mason St., so we then endeavored to find hose to replace the burned lengths and by the time we got it the fire was raging down Mason St. sweeping everything before it and creating a wind of its own. I then drove to Lombard and Taylor Streets where I found Engine #28 with only the Driver and Engineer and I told them to take the Engine and Horses to any safe place they could find. Being almost exhausted and the fire raging on all sides of us we made a dash down Jones along Bay and as we passed we noticed the Simpson Furniture and Lumber Yard one sea of flames. This was late on Friday afternoon, being in great need of food and rest we crossed the Bay to Fruitvale returning Saturday afternoon.

My crew consisted of Captain Pike, Engineer Potter, Fireman J. Dolan, L. Treling and William Roach.

The Oakland Department also assisted to try and stay the fire without hardly any water.

(Signed) John McCluskey.
Batt. Chief, District #1.

From the files of Battalion Chief Fred J. Bowlen, S. F. F. D.

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