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Notable Fires:

Destructive Conflagrations
Thirty-Seven Buildings Burned!

Loss $150,000 ! Incidents, &c.

1852 November 10

Again are we called upon to record a terrible conflagration in our doomed city, which has destroyed thirty-two buildings and ruined many persons. Our city, which has justly earned the mournful title of the " City of Conflagrations," has again been visited by the dreaded Fire King. At this particular time, when the news of the Sacramento calamity is yet fresh in our minds ; when the smoke still hovers over the ruins of Marysville ; when the farmers of Calaveras have been scourged, and even the city of San Diego has suffered, we, too, are numbered among the unfortunate cites. Our citizens could fully appreciate the sufferings of others by a like calamity, as experience had taught us a lesson that time would not soon efface, but when the startling alarm bell aroused our citizens, it created an intense and almost delirious excitement.

About half-past eight o'clock last evening, an unusually brilliant light was discovered in the second story window (on Merchant street,) of a wooden building fronting on Kearny street, and occupied in part by Sandy Marshall, as an eating and lodging house. The fire originated by the bursting of a camphene lamp, and though the cry was immediately raised, and the Monumental engine bell immediately rung, the flames in a moment had burst out of the window, and the fire had taken a fair bold.

Our brave firemen turned out promptly, and were on the spot with their usual alacrity, but it was at once evident, the building being of such a light and flimsy texture, that it could not be saved. Thousands had congregated on the Plaza, to witness the awful scene : and it was but a moment until the whole building was in one roaring blaze, casting such an intense light, that a sea of up-turned faces, could be as readily distinguished as on a bright noonday. The flames soon communicated to the building occupied by Dr. White and family, and barely gave them time to escape, with a part of their household goods in a damaged condition. It was then ascertained to be a fixed fact, that the neighboring buildings too, must be destroyed, and the inhabitants in that vicinity, in hurry and confusion, commenced moving their effects. The drays and waggons went clattering through the streets at a gallop ; the Engines and Hook and Ladder Companies, running to and fro, in every direction, the Firemen shouting, the bells ringing, the timbers cracking, — all combined, made it a scene indescribably awful.

It was thought for a long time that the Union building on the opposite side of the street where the fire occurred, would be saved, and long and nobly did our firemen battle against the destroying element to protect it. But the smoke became thicker and denser, until the flames shot a lurid glare through the roof, and the fate of the Union was sealed. The fine billiard saloon and bowling alleys were swept away at a breath. It was feared that the City Hall would be burned, but the wall proved an effectual barrier to the farther progess of the flames in that direction. The California Exchange was considered to be in great danger, but a large party of men on the roof, with the aid of a hose, succeeded in saving it. A large portion of the books, papers and records of the different offices were removed to a place of security to guard against any accident. The fire spread with astonishing rapidity down Merchant street, and though repeated attempts were made to blow up the buildings, none were successful in arresting the fire. On the north side of Merchant street all the buildings were consumed as far down as Bolton, Barron & Co.'s building, and on the south side as far as Naglee's building. All the buildings on the south side of Clay street, between the California Exchange and the brick store of Austin & Lobdell, (formerly Kelsey, Smith & Risley.) were consumed. Many of the houses on the south side of Clay street were severely scorched and blackened, and nothing but a protection of wet blankets saved them. The goods in all were removed, and even in Commercial street, nearly every house was deserted between Kearny and Montgomery streets. So far bad the panic reached, that even in Sacramento street and in many remote portions of the city, the work of removing to places of security had commenced. It was thought certain that the fire would spread across Montgomery street, but the indomitable energy of our firemen prevented it

About 10 P. M., after an hour and a half had elapsed in incessant labor, the joyful shout was raised that the fire was subdue, which sent a thrill of joy to the hearts of thousands. Without particularizing the individual losses at present, we hastily estimate the loss at $150,000. We shall endeavor to give the full particulars tomorrow. The following are the buildings destroyed, in most of which the goods and effects were saved.


Union Hotel (total loss), and a couple of two story frame houses.


Eileard's Saloon, Sandy Marshal's, Cigar store, Barber shop. Reading-room, Dr. White's office and residence, Central House, Bowling saloon, Wheeler's Gymnasium, Ann Matthews, tailor shop, one small two story brick house.


Pardy's clothing store, Salvator Rosa's music store, Stedman & White's jewelry store, Keyes's clothing store, Pollock's shoe store, T. Everett's hat store, Colman's clothing store, German Bakery, Morgan's jewelry shop, Mrs. Denney's millinery. Oriental Bakery, S. K. Labatt's fancy dry goods store, Bassford's shoe store, Smith's cigar store, and another shoe store, owner unknown.

There are others who sustained losses, that we could not fully ascertain, in the hurry and confusion of last evening.


Immediately after the engines had commenced playing last evening, some unfortunate individual, whose name we could not learn, accidentally fell into the plaza reservoir. He was fished out with a rope, and sustained no other damage than a good ducking.

The Rev. Bishop Allemani, of the Catholic Church, worked zealously all the evening with Empire Company No. 1, and did good service.

When the side of the building on the corner of Kearny and Merchant streets was pulled down, several per sons narrowly escaped with their lives. One was struck down, but fortunately fell out of danger. Many were slightly burned, but none dangerously so.

Ten arrests were made by the police last evening, for petit larceny at the fire. The station house is filled with goods, and those who have lost property will call there and identify what belongs to them.

Three or four persons were knocked down last evening, and one or two seriously injured, but we have not heard of any lives being lost. The Firemen remained at their posts until a late hour, in extinguishing the remains of the fire, and only left when complete darkness hid the work of devastation.

Upon an investigation this morning of the facts as to the origin of the fire, we find that it did not originate as stated by the bursting of a camphene lamp. Mr. C. P Marshall, the proprietor of the establishment where the fire broke out, assures us that camphene was never used in that portion of his building, which fact tends to lead to the belief that it was the work of an incendiary. A gentleman in the Union Hotel, who was looking at that direction at the time that in a moment the whole room was in a blaze. Had the fire caught by accident, the steady increase of the light would certainly have been noticed before the whole apartments were in a blaze. What tends to strengthen this belief ii, that at a later hour, about half past nine, an attempt was made to fire a building on Jackson street, above Kearny, which was discovered in time and extinguished without doing any damage. We have heard also of another attempt, but cannot trace it to a reliable source. The recent attempts made during the last few months show that our community is again cursed with a prowling band of incendiary scoundrels. The following are the losses by the fire as well as could be ascertained.


Mrs. Denny, 1 house, $1,800 ; Oriental Bakery, $1,000 ; Salvator Ross, $1,000; Keye's Clothing Store, $2.000 ; Everett's hat store, $3,000; Stedman and White, jewelers, $2,500 ; S. K. Labbatt, fancy dry goods, $3,500; German Bakery, $2,000 ; Colman's clothing store, $3,000 ; two boot and shoe stores, $2,500 ; sugar store, $1,000 ; Purdy's clothing store, $1,000 ; Morgan's jewelry store, $3,000 ; Merserve's upholstery, $1,000 ; Kelsey’s $2,500.


Middleton & Hall, Union Hotel, $18,000; H. B. Platt, bowling saloon, $6,000 ; three buildings torn down, $6,000 ;


H. S. M. Farnham, $8,000 ; Robie's saloon, $4,000 ; Dr. White's residence and office, $$5,000 ; nine other buildings valued at $2,700. The total loss, so far as ascertained, is about $104,800.

The great difficulty experienced by our firemen, was, in their hose, which could not be connected on account of some being much smaller than other portions. They labored under many disadvantages, which it was impossible to guard against. It is useless to particularize any one Company, as all performed their duty nobly and manfully. Several are scorched, and many received serious braises, but none are injured dangerously. Mr. Hossefross, the Chief Engineer, received a severe cut on the face from a fall.

Several of the liberal proprietors of saloons in the vicinity of the fire very generously supplied our firemen with refreshments, during their arduous labors. The burnt district was visited by thousands this morning, and hundreds are employed in raking up the ashes in search of valuables. The rubbish is being fast removed, and lumber has already been hauled upon the ground for the purpose of re-building.

So rapidly did the flames spread, that it was with difficulty that the lady of Col. Kewen, who was lying unwell in the adjoining building, could be removed, before the flames had invaded her apartment.

While we lament the sad occurrence, it is gratifying to know that no lives were lost, and some little satisfaction that the fire was no worse.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 3, Number 311, 10 November 1852 — DESTRUCTIVE CONFLAGRATION! [ARTICLE]

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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