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Notable Fires:

Destructive Conflagration
An Entire Block Consumed
May 18, 1855

LOSS $75,000

1855 May 19

A fire broke out yesterday, at 5 A. M., in the drug store of Dr. Porter, situated on Commercial street, a few doors west of, Davis, which soon spread into one of the most extensive conflagrations we have suffered for some for months. The alarm was instantly sounded, and the Fire Department promptly on the spot. With an alacrity quite remarkable, the engines were placed around and in the vicinity of the scene, and soon got to work. The flames, however, despite the gallant efforts of the firemen, gained rapidly, and soon enveloped the surrounding buildings, leaping onwards with a rapidity truly remarkable, and fed by a mass of dry old wooden houses, many of them unoccupied and offering an easy prey to the devouring element. It soon became evident that the entire block, bounded by Davis, Front, Commercial and Sacramento streets, was doomed ; and the hook and ladder companies were at once employed in tearing down buildings, while a number of the engine companies were stationed on the opposite sides of the streets, to prevent the spread of the flames beyond tie block. The fire was got under about 7 o'clock, the whole square, formerly a dense mass of wooden buildings, now a number of acres of charred timbers and smoking ruins ; the destruction had been complete. The buildings burned are as follows :


South Side.— Kellogg and Provost's saloon, corner Front and Commercial, inside entirely destroyed, house frame saved ; building belonged to Mr. Rich.
Two wooden houses, the property of Mr. Daniel Toy, unoccupied, entirely consumed. "Swiss Republic," or Swiss boarding house, furniture all in the upper story at the time, entirely consumed. House owned by Mr. Dall, firm of Smiley and Dall.
Large Clothing store of John Bradley, one half the large stock saved in a damaged condition. House entirely destroyed.
Clothing store of Thos. McGuire, one half of the stock saved, house entirely consumed.
An unoccupied building entirely consumed.
Dr. Porter's Drug store, recently finished. Store and contents consumed.
North Side. — The saloon of Air. Gallagher, formerly known as the steamboat saloon. Stock damaged and outside somewhat scorched. All the houses, (wooden) occupied as markets, saloons, and boarding houses, from the comer of Davis up to Front, were more or less scorched, but not badly damaged.


Corner of Sacramento and Front, house known as the Metropolitan saloon, entirely destroyed ; owned and kept by Mills and Vantine.
House occupied by W. B. Brown. flour dealer, and J. S. Kennedy & Co., flour dealers ; upper story and contents total loss ; lower story flooded with water, but no damage done to the stock of flour, which was removed when the fire commenced. The business of Kennedy & Co. goes on as usual. Office of Geo. N. Shaw, at the corner, partially destroyed. No damage of consequence was done to the brick buildings on the opposite (west) side of Front street.


South Side. — Metropolitan Saloon (forming the corner as above mentioned.) Dodd's Stone Factory entirely destroyed — stock and building. Monumental House— drinking saloon and boarding house for seamen — entirely destroyed.
Next came six old wooden buildings, some used as small liquor stores or boarding houses and extending down to the corner of Sacramento and Davis— these were all destroyed.
South Side.— The old toll house at the head of Sacramento street wharf was somewhat damaged.
Avery & Cogswell's stone storehouse, scorched and drenched with water, damage trifling.
Hardin & Linkin, sailmakers, occupying the second story, damage trifling. The block known as Granite Block, built by H. B. Truett in 1853, was uninjured, save by the intense heat warping the iron doors, and the action of water upon the cornices of heated sand stone causing them to crumble. The goods in these stores occupied by Messrs. H. 1, Dodge & Co. and others, were uninjured. The brick store of Truett & Truett, importing grocers, was injured on the upper part of the roof, which was constructed of wood. We were shown by Mr. Truett, iron doors which had been red hot inside. Beside a slight discoloring of the bricks and some slightly warped doors, this building was uuinjured below the wooden cornices.
Herr &. Co., cracker and bread bakers, next door, Whitney it Co., liquor importers, and Chrysler & Co., on the corner, escaped with their buildings slightly scorched by the heat from across the street.


The New Orleans Exchange, forming the corner of Commercial and Davis streets, was entirely consumed, as was the Knickerbocker Exchange next door; a number of old unoccupied tenements formed the rest of this row to the comer of Sacramento street, were all destroyed.
Hay establishment of R. N. Dechano, opposite the N. O. Exchange, (.lightly injured.
Total loss, about $62,000.


We are informed that the flames were first seen issuing from the drug store of Dr. Porter, and several residents in the vicinity affirm that the fire was the work of an incendiary. One of the city police visited these old wooden shanties some weeks since, in the night, and found from twenty to forty ragged loafers and destitute vagrants asleep, or disputing the possession of the place with the rats. Mr. Duchane, on the corner of Davis and Commercial also states that on some nights that the whole block has been occupied by homeless people, who will now have to seek other quarters. From these facts, it is pretty evident that some careless cigar smoker or the proprietor of a half extinguished dudeen is the originator of the fire. As a whole, the loss is not considerable, when we take into account the amount of ground burned over. These old shanties, had they not been swallowed up by the Fire King, must soon have been pulled down in the resistless path of progress. I


Officer J. W. Lees, Foreman of Engine Co. No. 4, was assisting to get some property out of a burning building on Front street, when, a number of the St. Francis Hook and Ladder men rushing along, their ladder came in contact with his hand, crushing it badly. The wound is considered as very serious.
One of the Monumentals No. 6 was in the second story of a building on Front street when the whole floor gave way, precipitating him into the lower story. All supposed him lost, when he emerged from the smoke and flame blowing the ashes out of his mouth, and only in time to escape the downfall of the roof and walls.
R. B. Gardener, of No. 4, was injured by the rolling out of a box of goods from a store on Sacramento street. A portion of the flesh and sinews of his right leg were jammed off.
Some of the hose of one or two engines was burned off in several places with the water flowing through them ! Rather warm work in that spot.
Mr. H. Berdan, of Knickerbocker No. 5, was badly burned while holding the hose-pipe near the corner of Front and Sacramento streets.
Mr. Rob't Law. of Sansome Hook and Ladder Co., had an arm broken by the falling of a beam from a burning building.
Mr. Chas. E. Buckingham was badly burned while attempting to ascend the stairs of a house in flames on Commercial street.
Two men were arrested for fighting over the possession of some property which had got mixed up in the general confusion.


— We would suggest to the Fire Wardens appointed by the last Common Council that the season is approaching, if not actually upon us, of those violent winds during the prevalence of which some of the most disastrous fires in the records of San Francisco have occurred. It is an incontrovertible fact that not ten per cent, of the houses above Stockton street are provided with chimneys ; their place being supplied by small stovepipes in some instances sticking out of the roofs or sides of houses, and rendering the building liable to take fire at any moment by a spark or two lodged in a dry spot. That this is no unnecessary alarm, we have only to look back to the origin of the fires and alarms which have occurred in the last five weeks. The fire in Montgomery street, some ten days since, was caused by a neglected stove-pipe ; that in Clay street, some two days since, from the same cans ; that in Montgomery street, near Broadway, the same ; to say nothing of the alarms from similar causes. The ordinance relating to these matters should be rigidly enforced, or we may have a repetition of some great fire of times past among the wooden motions of the city.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 6, Number 127, 19 May 1855 — DESTRUCTIVE CONFLAGRATION. [ARTICLE]


1855 May 20

Editor of the Herald: — I wish to correct a misstatement which appeared in an evening paper of yesterday, relative to the fire of yesterday morning, and the accidents which occurred thereat. It was stated that "Mr. Lees, foreman of No. 4 Engine Company, had his band badly injured by a ladder hook of the St. Francis, which had been carelessly turned outward while the truck was in motion." Now, then, to come to facts. Some members of the "St. Francis" were running with one of their ladders, and Mr. Lees was approaching in their direction, both parties met, and as all were trying to screen their fares from the flames, they did not see each other in time to avoid a collision. Mr. Lees acquits the men who carried the ladder from any blame, as the accident was of the kind which will sometimes happen under such scorching circumstances. The party who wrote the item should be better posted before he made such an Sour like report, for such an accident as he describes could not possibly take place. Perhaps, however, he may be a member of the once celebrated Hook and Ladder Company of this city, who carried iron handled axes and had iron soles to their boots. By inserting the above, you will much oblige
May 19, 1855,
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 6, Number 352, 20 May 1855 — The Fire of Yesterday. [ARTICLE]

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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