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Great Fires: 1906 Great Earthquake & Fire

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San Francisco Fire Department
1906 Great Earthquake & Fire

SAN FRANCISCO BAY, the foot of Howard Street and south

April 18th

After a short time the Chief sent word by messenger to report at once at 12th and Folsom Streets. We canvassed that neighborhood from hydrant to hydrant in search of water, but without success. Chief Conlon instructed us to try all hydrants until we found water; consequently we tried all hydrants until we reached the water front at the foot of Howard Street. The only available water to be found was by drafting from the bay off the Howard Street dock. We obtained fresh water for our boiler from an Italian bark that was lying at the dock. The captain of the bark put his men to work carrying water and assisted us all that day.

From the engine we led our line up Howard Street into the large lumber yards at Spear Street; we worked in that vicinity all day, and helped to stop the fire from reaching the wharves. About 4 o'clock P. M. April 18th the fresh water gave out, and we then got fresh water from the Government fire tugs, as they were condensing water for their own use. At about 10 o'clock the first night the fire tug moved to the mail dock, where the fire was raging amont [sic] the box factories and lumber yards.

We followed around the water front until we met them again, and doubled up with their lines; running a stream up several blocks to meet the fire. We worked there all the night of April 18th, and had the fire under control for several blocks around that vicinity. On the morning of April 19th., we took up our lines and moved into the Mission district.

From the report of Captain Conniff, Engine No. 26, 327 2nd Avenue, 1893 LaFrance, 4th-size, double, 500 GPM

SAN FRANCISCO BAY, Foot of Third Street

April 18th

Engine 35 retired to the cistern at First and Harrison Sts. The fire had reached such proportions, however, that this cistern also, 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 (sic) from the Bay, the fire was prevented from crossing Townsend St.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

ON THE CHANNEL NEAR FOURTH STREET, THE STEAMER JULIETTE

April 18th

After this, in a last attempt to save this section, I located the Steamer Juliette on the Channel near Fourth St. This boat contained 5,000 gallons of fresh water in her tanks, and it was impossible for her to leave her moorings as the electricity which operated the bridges had been cut off; we used this supply of fresh water to feed our engines. This supply of water alone was accountable for the saving of the buildings owned by the Southern Pacific R. R. Co., and along the South side of Townsend St. to Second St. About 10 P. M. that night our fresh water supply from the Juliette ran out, and through Lieut. Freeman (US Navy) we were able to obtain 2,000 gallons more (by aid of U. S. Tug Sotoyme) and owing to this supply we saved this section of the City and also the large manufacturing plants located on the South side of Harrison St., between 10th and 14th Sts.

From the report of Chief Conlon, District No. 9

We were successful in saving the Southern Pacific Passenger Depot at Third and Townsend Sts., owing to the fact that water was obtained from the tanks of a Steamer located in the Channel; again it became impossible to continue any further as the fresh water used in our Engine had to be carried by my men in buckets, and this water arriving at different intervals made it impossible to keep up the necessary steam pressure in our boilers.

From the report of Captain T J Murphy, Engine No. 29, 1305 Bryant Street, 1899 American Metropolitan 2nd-size, Double, 700 GPM

After 12 P. M. we moved to 11th & Brannan Sts., and again secured a small amount of fresh water contained in the Condensors [sic] in the Engine Room of a power house owned by the United Railroads, with this we were able to save the South side of Harrison St., between Eleventh and Fourteenth Sts., and the West side of Eleventh St. to Bryant St.

From the report of Captain T J Murphy, Engine No.29, 1305 Bryant Street, 1899 American Metropolitan 2nd-size, Double, 700 GPM

...the salt water supply of the United Railroads at Eleventh and Bryant Sts. was instrumental in saving the Fire Department stables and surrounding property.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

SAN FRANCISCO BAY, THE SEA WALL, foot of Stockton Street

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.

From the report of Chief McCluskey, District No. 1

Under orders of Bat. Chief McClusky we next connected with a salt water line running from a fire tug stationed at the foot of Stockton st., fourteen blocks to Broadway and Mason Sts.; through 3 eng, obtaining our fresh water from a cistern at Broadway and Stockton sts. [sic] We stopped the fire from crossing to the North side of Broadway, but after J. Birmingham had dynamited the S. W. cor of Broadway and Stockton sts. [sic], the fire crossed to the East side of Stockton st., and the North side of Broadway. We left this vicinity about 9 p. m. April 19th.

From the report of Captain Schmidt, Engine No. 28, 301 Francisco Street, 1897 Truckson-LaFrance, 3rd-size, double, 500 GPM

The fire was then sweeping over Telegraph Hill rendering it impossible to reach the only unused cistern at Dupont and Greenwich Sts., and the companies were forced to retire to the Seawallin [sic] a final effort to stay the conflagration. Streams were lead up to Stockton, Powell and Mason Sts. 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.

From the report of Captain Schmidt, Engine No. 28, 301 Francisco Street, 1897 Truckson-LaFrance, 3rd-size, double, 500 GPM

April 18th  2:00 P.M.

When chemical was discharged we got two small streams from Steamer Topeka, sending the chemical back to recharge at Chemical 5, getting water from a well opposite Chemical 5. This was about 2 P. M. or thereabouts, when Foreman Short of Engine No. 1, of Oakland reported to me with Engine 4, and Hose 1, of Oakland. I then left Chemical in charge of Hoseman Maroney and took the Oakland Company up to Pacific & Sansome Sts., and led from a cistern to Washington St., working with Battalion McCluskey and Murphy. Later the same evening I worked with Chief Dougherty and McCluskey on Merchant St., in rear of Hall of Justice.

From the report of Chief Cook, District No. 2

April 18th, midnght

Somewhere about midnight, or early on the morning of the 19th, I took Engine 28 and Oakland Hose Company No. 1, to Pacific & Montgomery, leading down to Montgomery & Washington, and around Montgomery Block and Washington Sts. to Montgomery & Sansome. I then worked with Chief McCluskey on Stockton, Clay, Washington Sts. and Montgomery Ave. After this I held a consultation with Chief McCluskey and Chief Murphy about getting water from the Bay, as I had been informed by Captain Wolf of the 22nd U. S. Infantry, that the transport tugs were at our disposal. On their advice I led a line from the Bay at the foot of Stockton St. to Engine 31, st [sic] Filbert & Stockton Sts., obtaining our first water from a well. From here we led to Engine No. 5, at Washington Square and then to an Engine at Stockton & Broadway, and down to Powell and Broadway, where I delivered the stream to Chief McCluskey.

From the report of Chief Cook, District No. 2

 SAN FRANCISCO BAY, foot of Broadway Street

April 18th

I obtained my hose from the Corporation Yard No. 2, and returned to the Water front, taking a line from a tow boat at the foot of Broadway we led up Broadway to Montgomery. Here we met Lieutenant Freeman of the United States Navy with a line from the United States Navy Fire Boat, and by coupling our lines together we led up Montgomery Ave., and around the County Jail, working there until early on the morning of the 20th when I left these lines in charge of Lieutenant Freeman.

From the report of Chief Cook, District No. 2

 SAN FRANCISCO BAY, foot of Vallejo Street

April 20th

I then returned to the Water front and led two lines from the Tug Boat Pilot, at the foot of Vallejo St. up to Kearny St., where I was joined by Captain Sullivan of Engine 12. Backing down with the fire to Sansome St. where we were drive out on the afternoon of the 20th.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

SAN FRANCISCO BAY, foot of Filbert Street

April 19th        

A stream was also lead from a Government boat at Filbert St. pier to Broadway and Powell Sts., but without avail.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

SAN FRANCISCO BAY, near the Haslett Warehouses

April 20th (late in the evening)

I then assisted Captain Wagner of the 22nd U. S. Infantry to lead two lines from the Governor Markham which was lying near the Haslett Warehouses and then left these lines in charge of Captain Wagner and returned, led a second line from the Pilot to the Gibraltar Ware houses [sic]. We worked in this vicinity until daylight of the 21st, and then Truckman Wilson of Truck 2 in charge of these lines. I next went to the foot of Vallejo St., and led a line from the Tug Boat Sea Fox to the freight sheds where we worked all day, moving along the water front from Broadway to the Sea Wall.

From the report of Chief Cook, District  No. 2

SAN FRANCISCO BAY, the foot of Van Ness Avenue

April 20th  6:30 am

While this was going on a line was lead 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 Sts. gave out. When water was obtained at Union and Gough Sts., however, these houses were saved and the danger was over when this hydrant also gave out. After that another stream was lead from the boat and the fire was stopped at Union and Van Ness Ave.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

…by orders issued by Assistant Chief Shaughnessy we proceeded to Filbert Street and Van Ness Avenue, arriving there at about 6.30 A. M. April 20th, in company with Assistant Chief Wells. The Fire Boats, which were stationed at the Northern end of Van Ness Avenue, pumped a supply of water to Engine Company #2, and four or five other Engine Companies which were also stationed at contiguous points, and we worked on the fire from this location until it was extinguished.

From the report of Captain Allen, Engine No. 34, 1119 Ellis Street, 1901 American Metropolitan 2nd-size, Double, 700 GPM

We worked in the vicinity of Franklin & Geary Sts., all night of April 19th, and then moved under orders from Chief Wills to Van Ness & Grove St., from where we returned to Green & Van Ness. Chief Dougherty instructed us to return to quarters at 10 A. M. April 20th after having been on duty over 50 hours.

From the report of Captain Allen, Engine No. 34, 1119 Ellis Street, 1901 American Metropolitan 2nd-size Steam Engine, 700 GPM

17TH & HOWARD STREETS, a broken main was dammed to make a cistern

April 18th (afternoon)

…we assisted in pumping water from the broken water main at that point. The company then worked up Howard st., from 15th to above 18th St., under orders of Batt. Chiefs McKittrick, Conlon and Waters.

From the report of Captain Welch, Engine No. 7, 3160 16th Street, 1890 LaFrance, 3rd-size, double, 600 GPM

April 19th (afternoon)

The break in the 24-inch main on Howard St. 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. Center at Sixteenth and Folsom Sts. were also of material assistance in checking the fire in that neighborhood, while the salt water supply of the United Railroads at Eleventh and Bryant Sts. was instrumental in saving the Fire Department stables and surrounding property.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

A 22 inch water main was broken causing a large opening in the street at the Corner of 17th and Howard Sts., and I had my men dam it up with rocks, and bags of sand, making a cistern, and by connecting several lines of hose with Engines #10, 21, 25, 35, we were able to obtain a small supply of water, which we used in this vicinity.

From the report of Chief Conlon, District No. 9

FOLSOM & CLEMENTINA STREETS, broken hydrant main

April 18th (morning)

Folsom and Clementina Sts., we found it was impossible to obtain any water from this hydrant and our Engineer not abandoning all hopes of obtaining it, made connections and succeeded in drafting, the water left in this broken main. We immediately coupled on another line, and our combined efforts were awarded by being able to stop the fire from crossing 6th St.

From the report of Captain Cullen, Engine No. 6, 311 6th Street, 1897 LaFrance, 1st-size, double 900 GPM

17TH  AVENUE & CLEMENT STREET, a well

April 18th

We next went to 17th ave., and Clement Street where there were two houses on fire. One that stood in the center of a lot by itself had burned down; the other we put out with water from a well, by forming a bucket brigade. By the time we had returned to quarters we could see several large fires burning in [sic] every direction

From the report of Captain Conniff, Engine No. 26, 327 2nd Avenue, 1893 LaFrance, 4th-size, double, 500 GPM

11TH & BRYANT STREETS, a light and power concern

April 18th (evening)

Later on we again started fighting the fire at 11th & Bryant Sts., obtaining some water from the premises occupied by a Light and Power Concern and with this succeeded in saving a few Manufacturing plants located in this neighborhood.

From the report of Captain Cullen, Engine No. 6, 311 6th Street, 1897 LaFrance, 1st-size, double 900 GPM

16TH  & HOWARD STREETS, water main broken making a cistern

April 19th, 11:00 am

Near the corner of Sixteenth & Howard Sts., the water main had been broken and by daming [sic] same up, we were able to form a cistern, and pumped the water from this place for sometime. This supply aided materially in checking the flames in this vicinity.

From the report of 2nd Assistant Chief Shaughnessy

17TH  & HOWARD STREETS

April 19th, 11:00 am

At 11 A. M. Thursday the fire being beyond danger at this point we again picked up the remaining hose in our possession and proceeded to 17th & Howard Sts. there being considerable water in a large hole in the middle of the street owing to a broken main, with stones and sand we damned the water that was running to waste and put our Engine to work after stretching our hose as far as Capp St. near 16th St. here we had a very hard fight as the wind was blowing the intense heat of the fire in our direction. Soon it became unbearable and as the fire was gaining on us we could not stop it from crossing Capp St. but after fighting every inch of the ground we succeeded in getting it under control at 20th St.

From the report of Captain Cullen, Engine No. 6, 311 6th Street, 1897 LaFrance, 1st-size, double 900 GPM

REVIEW

In order to state an example of the difficulties encountered by the Fire Department in this City on April 18th, 1906, I take for instance Lake Honda containing thirty three million gallons of water which was badly damaged by the quake and two-thirds of its original capacity had leaked out, to make use of this water we were compelled to use the old pump of Laguna De Merced which had been abandoned for years, its pumping capacity was only seven million gallons every 24 hours. As the New Water Mains had broken through the effects of the quake at Beulah and Stanyan Sts., and Devisadero [sic] and Hayes Sts., we were forced to use the old mains connecting with Lake Honda Reservoir. Our pressure was only one-third of its natural capacity, and instead of forty pounds pressure to the inch we were only able to obtain in this case 15 pounds.

From the report of Chief Conlon, District No.9

Small Amounts of Water

6TH AND FOLSOM STREETS

At the fire on Folsom St. near Sixth a little water was obtained from the hydrant at Sixth and Folsom Sts. 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 Sts., 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.

We were able to obtain a small supply of water from a broken water main and by doubling it up with other lines fought the fire in the vicinity of 12th and 13th streets all day on April 19th., and up to the morning of April 20th. As the small supply of water to be obtained was being used by other companies, and finding that we could be of no further service, we left for our quarters in the Richmond district at 7 A. M. friday [sic] April 20th. 

From the report of Captain Conniff, Engine No. 26, 327 2nd Avenue, 1893 LaFrance, 4th-size, double, 500 GPM

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