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Notable Fires:

General Alarm
October 23, 1863
1:30 A.M.


1863 October 23

Not for some years has there been witnessed in San Francisco a fire of the same extent as that which commenced this morning, at about half-part one o'clock, in the rag store of Charley Orley (at least so we were informed in the general excitement), bounded by Sacramento and California streets on the one side, and Davis and Drumm streets on the other. The entire block of wood buildings with the exception of two on the southwest corner, were entirely destroyed, and a portion of another on the corner of Drumm street. The scene was one of most exquisite grandeur; but not, alas! to those whose property was destroyed by the devouring element As far as we can learn, up to the hour of going to press, there are no lives lost. Too much praise cannot be given to the several fire companies present for the very heroic manner in which they performed their labors, and the apparent recklessness they manifested in regard to self-preservation.

We must not forget, however, to mention the noble spirit manifested by the Russian fleet now lying in the harbor, the commanding officers of which sent to the scene of conflagration nearly two hundred of their seamen, under the command, as we learned, of Lieut. Seraggen, Lieut Eholen and Lieut. Mackaoff. Each of these gallant " tars " came with a bucket; but our good firemen, whose appliances for combatting, with the destroying flame are of much more utility, urgently requested the sailors to throw aside their buckets and go to work on the engines. The Russian sailors responded with a good will, and continued until, like their competitors, they were, one by one, almost exhausted, when they took a few moments' rest and then again resumed their positions at the engines.
The spectacle presented by this fire language fails to present The loss of property it very great. Nothing like a correct estimate ran be given in this morning's issue. It was heartrending to see the poor families who escaped from the flumes, strewed along the pathways of California street with their beds, chairs, tables, mirrors, brooms and brushes, all in a dreadful medley state.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 15, Number 4986, 23 October 1863 — TREMENDOUS FIRE THIS MORNING. [ARTICLE]

OCTOBER 23, 1863

— The following is a list of the principal sufferers by the great fire of Friday morning, with amounts of losses sustained. Of course there are many poor persons who have lost everything, although in the aggregate the sums would not reach a large figure.


On the corner of Sacramento and Davis streets John Vollmer, grocery store (frame); loss $2500, insured for $1500. Lloyd Tevis owned the property. Adjoining, Bartwell & Knowles, cooper shop— lost all. Chas. Harley, junk shop, loss 6000. In this building, situated in the centre of the block, the fire originated. Thos. H. Selby, shed containing lead pipe, loss $10,000, insurance $6000. Lander's cooper shop, loss $2,000. Begenheimer's cooper shop, loss $1,500.


Van Ness' bellows factory; seventy-five thousand feet of clear lumber burned. Losses, $7,000.
On the corner of California and Davis, California Saloon.
C. S. Taylor, frame and sash factory, occupied by Taylor & Smith; $2,500 loss.
Robinson & Co., sash and blinds, loss $6,000
Williamson & McMillen, salt mill, loss $1,500.
F. Frederickson, turner, $500.
Smith & Ware, sash and doors, $1,000.


Haywood & Harman, corner of California and Drumm streets, lumber; loss $18,000.
Mitchell's block and pump factory, losses $7,000.
Thomas Ward, brooms, etc; loss $2,500.
Phelps, shipsmith; loss, $4,000.
Thomas & Co.'s loss in machinery, etc., in the brick structure on California street, will not fall short of $20,000.


Fred Turner, loss, $800. Five two-story sailor boarding-houses were here burned, Bonner's carpenter's shop; Harmon & Wildouck, lost not ascertained; Mitchell's vinegar factory, loss, $4,000, but partly insured.
Peck & Co.'s butcher shop, loss, $800.
Dean's cooper shop, loss $1,000.
Charles Hurley, bagging shop, loss $1,000
Lodging house, kept by an elderly woman, loss $600. .

The flames crossed Drumm street at the corner of California, and partially consumed S. Van Lask's broom manufactory, and totally destroyed Wilton & Brothers sash door and blind factory. Their losses cannot be less than $8,000. Several large piles of lumber in various portions of the block were injured more or less by the flames.

The entire losses of buildings and contents must amount to at least $100,000. As was remarked above, a very large number of small losses cannot be ascertained. Most of those are swept out of house and home.

Subscriptions will be received at the Alta office for the relief of the poor families who suffered so severely by the fire.

The lead pipe belonging to Mr. Selby, we learn, is not rendered entirely worthless. Some thirty-five or forty tons of damaged coal, belonging to the same Cumberland gentleman, was purchased by another gentleman for quite a large sum.

The absence of wind from the west was Providential. Had the flames forced their way through to the city front, and under the thoroughly ventilated wharves and that portion of the city, the destruction of property must have been vastly enhanced. The tide was low, which embarrassed the firemen, and prevented them from subduing the conflagration at an earlier hour.

There were many destitute persons of both sexes about the ruins throughout the day, looking in rain for their effects. This calamity falls with peculiar hardship upon them; and great sympathy was expressed at their misfortunes.

The firemen, from the commencement to the close of the conflagration, worked incessantly. Two or three streams were playing on the rains down to a late hour last evening, a general alarm having been sounded from the Hall bell at 4 o'clock, and another sit 7 o'clock from the small fire bells. Chief Engineer Scannell remained on duty for seventeen hours, and by his judicious orders the further spread of the conflagration was averted. Independence Hook and Ladder Company, although not yet admitted into the Department, worked indefatigably all night long.

When the fire was first discovered, several members of Howard No. 3, noticing that the locality was in the vicinity of the shop where their machine was being repaired, took a supply of hose from their engine house and repaired to the fire. They attached their hose to a hydrant of the Spring Valley Water Works, at the corner of California and Davis streets, and by a judicious use of their stream prevented the flames from spreading beyond the corner of Market and California streets. No. 7 came alone soon after and the Howard Boys supplied them with water. The Howards subsequently took their machine from the shop where it was repairing, and put it into service, aided by the Russian sailors playing through 1,100 feet of hose. The Spring Valley Water Works had a full and efficient supply of water for the use of the Department, statements to the contrary notwithstanding, and in addition kept three streams playing on the embers all day yesterday (Friday), and now have water enough for all emergencies.


Both Pennsylvania and Monumental steam fire-engines were at work during the fire, doing great service with their never tiring pumping and forcing apparatus. The Pennsylvania, being in active service, was quickly on the ground, throwing an immense volume of water on the burning buildings. Monumental ( Big Six) was out of service, owing to repairs, but as soon as the members saw the extent of the flames, they got their engine from the Corporation yard, brought their suction hose from a distance in another direction, and in half an hour after the first alarm were at work on the wharf, "drafting" from the bay through twenty seven feet of suction hose, and forcing a heavy stream of water on the fire through fourteen hundred feet of hose. The steamer was kept faithfully at work for nine hours, pouring water on the burning lumber, &c, long after the fire had been confined. The value of the steamers has been established before, but in a long fight of the flames, such as yesterday morning, their steady untiring force becomes more apparent and demonstrative.

Special officer Van Ness had the satisfaction of rescuing four young children from a horrible death. The upper story of the grocery store, on the southwest corner of Davis and Sacramento streets, was occupied by a family. The parents had escaped, but could not or did not extricate their children. The above named officer ascended a ladder and broke and in a window, thereby cutting his hand and wrist badly. He rushed into the room, seized the babe in the cradle, and three children who were asleep in one bed. He passed them down to the street in safety.

A rumor obtained that one person had perished in the conflagration, but we could hear of no missing" individual yesterday.

A large frame awning or shed, over the first story of the vinegar establishment, fell with a tremendous crash, and several persons narrowly escaped harm from the burning timbers. . Chief Engineer Scannell desires us on his behalf, as also on behalf of the Fire Department, to return his and their sincere acknowledgments to the Russian officers and men for their invaluable services rendered in staying the progress of the fire.

The Russian sailors performed act of daring which redound greatly to their credit. One of them had an arm dislocated, and another a hand badly crushed, and still another received injuries. After the fire the Russian sailors accepted the hospitalities of Broderick Engine Company, No. 1, at their house.


— An inquest was holden by the Coroner, last evening, over the bodies of the two children who lost their lives in the house destroyed by fire on Jones street. The full details of the tragedy have bees already published in the Alta. The Jury after examination of witnesses, rendered the following verdict: "We, the undersigned jurors, convened to inquire into the causes of death of Andrew and George Henry Doyle, do find that the deceased were natives of San Francisco, aged respectively four years and one year and ten months, and that they came to their deaths by being burned in bed in their residence on the 19th last.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 15, Number 4987, 24 October 1863

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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