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Notable Fires:

General Alarm
October 21, 1870
Box 52
Mission and Fremont Streets
About 8:45 p. m.

Three Large Mills, Nine Other Buildings, a Huge Quantity or Lumber, and 500 Tons or Coal Consumed.
A Large Portion Of The Southern Part Of The City At One Time Seriously Threatened With Destruction
Three Men Supposed to Have Been Burned to Death.

1870 October 21

The city was visited last evening by the most destructive conflagration that has occurred since the destruction of the Pacific warehouse in 1864. It occurred in the southeastern portion of the city, which is principally occupied by factories. The structures here, either as factories, private residences, or etoroc. are almost exclusively of wood, which, taken in connection with the magnitude of the fire, which still burns with fury as we write, reasonably caused alarm, and the apprehension that a large portion of that section of the city would fall a prey to the devouring element.

At about a quarter to nine o'clock last night the sky over the southern portion of the city was reddened to a degree only equaled by the famous borealis light, which recently appeared in the heavens, and while those in other portions of the city were undecided as to its cause, the fire alarm bells gave the signal from box No. 52, corner of Mission and Fremont streets. The signal decided the opinions of the wavering, and immediately every street leading to the place indicated by the alarm, was alive with persons running at a breakneck speed.


The Fire Department also turned oat promptly in response to the alarm, which was a general one. The building on fire proved to be the Empire Mills. owned by Miller & Haly, situate on Fremont street, between Mission and Market. The fire had game considerable headway before the alarm was turned on, and when the engines arrived the flames shot through the south side, the windows and roof, and rose into the air with defiant fury. The building was a large two story frame, having a frontage on Fremont street of over one hundred feet, and in part extending across the block to Beale street. It was well filled with lumber and manufactured goods, which fed the flames and added to their fury, In a few minutes the entire building was a solid sheet of fire, the liquid flame from which, as it rose into the air, lighted up the vicinity with all the brilliancy of old Sol at noonday. Occasionally a portion of the roof, or the side walls would fall in, which gave variety to the scene by first sending up black volumes of smoke, then a more brilliant flame and finally a shower of small embers, which appeared like the exploded combustible matter of a thousand rockets fired into the air.

It was now evident that the factory could not be saved, and to confine the fire to it, and save the surrounding buildings w is the universal judgment of the thousands who witnessed the conflagration. But the firemen seemed to have no head, no Chief, who gave orders, and each company appeared to act on its own judgment. The streams from the different hose were weak, and they were not properly applied. All the streams seemed to be concentrated on the burning building from Fremont street, when only a few should have been retained there, to prevent the destruction of the houses on the opposite side of the street, and the remainder taken to Beale street to play on the rear of the building and save the factories and houses adjoining. Before this was done two large tenement houses, which stood in the centre of the block, and reaobod from Beale street by an alleyway, caught fire, and were entirely consumed. On Beale street, immediately in rear of Miller & Haley's factory, stood the warehouse of George T. Casebolt, importer of carriage materials. It was one-story frame building, out being separated from Miller & Haley's mill by a brick firewall, the fire did not reach it, for more than an hour. Next to this building, in a southerly direction was the sash factory of Dell & Co. This was a large two-story frame, and was soon in a blaze; and the fire extending rapidly to the row of houses which extend to the corner of Mission street, the conflagration became terrific and threatened to extend to the adjoining blocks. In the meantime the warerooms of the Glasgow Metal and Iron Importing Company, which stood near Miller & Haley's factory, fronting 'on Fremont street, caught fire, and blazed up with fury. The firemen worked energetically, and exposed themselves to tremendous heat and great peril in order to save it. But their efforts were unavailing, and the blaze from the roof and sides only added to the terrific grandeur of the field of liquid flame which had now spread out over half a block. That all the buildings now on fire would be reduced to ashes there seemed not the shadow of a doubt. To throw water on this seething, surging, mass of flames, reveling defiantly and rising in vast volumes up hundreds of feet into the air seemed as useless as to turn them into the waters of the bay.


Was terrific, and it was with the utmost difficulty positions could be obtained from which to make the streams effective in saving adjoining property. The opposite sides of all the streets surrounding the burning buildings were thickly studded with frame houses, the timbers of which smoked, and shrunk, and twisted, so terrible was the heat. At this juncture the apprehension became general that the buildings mentioned would instantly share the common ruin of those already in flames. The night was perfectly calm, and even at the fire, where rarification (sic) of the air mast have added to the slight breeze, it could scarcely be felt. Its direction, however, being from the west, the flames were directed that way. and consequently the houses on Beale street suffered most. This circumstance also threatened the safety of Casebolt's warehouse, which was now dried to a crisp. The Chief Engineer utterly failed to comprehend the situation of things at this moment, and while he rushed about, and ordered, the fire advanced in fury and the destruction of more property seemed inevitable. Fire Commissioners Rainey and Reynolds ordered the Chief Engineer to bring around more streams to this street, and turn them on the buildings. Two engines were at once sent around, back, before they arrived, several buildings were on fire. Among those damaged, are the Pacific File Works, Bailey & Co’s, machine shop, a row of four buildings occupied as an office, by Holt Brothers, the Eureka Salt Company, and Harley & Hardy's – wadding factory. Streams were soon turned on those buildings, and the fire was extinguished in a short time. Other houses were badly scorched. both on this (Beale) and Mission street.


A fresh element was now added to the fire. In the centre of the block, in a vacant lot, five hundred tons of coal, owned by Mr. McNear, was deposited. This, which had been for some time completely surrounded by the fire, shot up black columns of smoke, indicating, that it was burning.

Casebolt's warehouse, which had been for some time threatened with destruction, This fact was soon realized.

Some caught fire and shared in the general conflagration. The building of Summit Ice Company, in which a large quantity of ice was stored, fronting on Mission street, at the extreme end of the block, also caught fire, and was soon in flames. In fact, the devouring element leaped from building to building in defiance of the exertions of the firemen until it was stopped by space and brick walls. At this point the scene was terrifically grand. A sheet of livid fire, through which could be seen the black charred remains of the huge pillars of the burnt buildings and the reddened burnt chimney and walls of the engine room of Millar & Haley's factory, extended over more than half a block, while the flames and sparks as they ascended gave the atmosphere, for a considerable distance around, a perfectly red hue. At the north end of the block the fire was met by brick walls which prevented its further advance in that direction. One of the buildings is the saw factory of N. W. Spaulding fronting on Fremont street, and the other the Empire Warehouse of Mr. C. Carleton The firemen worked with a will to prevent damage to these buildings, often exposing themselves to the most scorching heat. This was more particularly so with the men who had charge of the Empire Warehouse. So terrific was the heat they were to that, it was found necessary to cover them with gunny sacks, which were kept saturated with water. To those men, more specifically the men of hose companies one and ????? C. Carleton desires to return his thanks. Late ????? Engineers Whitney. Scannell and Nutting were present, and worked well. They exposed themselves freely to danger to save life and property and their assistance was very signally felt.


The origin of the fire is unknown, nor could it be ascertained where it broke out first. Miller & Haley kept a watchman constantly employed in their factory, but he must have been absent when the fire broke out. Otherwise it could not have gained such headway before the alarm was sounded. The fire was first seen by Officer Hagerty ????? Howard street, who, after having turned in the alarm, rushed into the building and secured Miller & Haley's office books. Their safe stood at the southwest corner of the building, and we believe preserved its contents. The buildings ????? have all been reduced to ashes, and where stood yesterday the factories by which about two hundred men were employed, is a mass of burning embers. Miller & Haley alone employed one hundred men

We cannot omit to mention a remark so general and so just made by every person who witnessed this terrible conflagration. The hose used was said to be absolutely rotten; and not more than one-half the water pumped by the engines reached the fire. Had the firemen had good, sound hose, instead of the leaky, rotten stuff used ????? much valuable property might have been saved. This fire should also have a wholesome ????? making of appointments. The Chief ????? appointee of the remodeled Board of the Commissioners, proved entirely unequal ?????

Sorry, some portions of the above paragraph were masked by a flaw in the original article.

the trust with which he is charged, and it is only fair to suppose that much of the property destroyed could have been saved by an efficient Chief Engineer, He should have used his excellent force in having the property by which Miller & Haley's factory was surrounded, rather than waste time and water in the futile attempts to subdue the fury of the fire as it raged when he arrived. Had he done this, he would have shown do extraordinary ability, but he would at least have accomplished much good. As we go to press, the firemen are still at work, and the remains of one of the greatest conflagrations with which the city has been visited for a number of years, are still shouldering.


The fire, it is believed, broke out in Miller & Haley's Empire Planning (sic) Mills, in which Bryant & Strahan, carvers, also had their shop. This was a large two-story frame building, 190 feet front on Fremont street It occupied Nos. 21, 23 and 25. The lost of this building, with the large supply of lumber on hand, machinery, mouldings, (sic) patterns and carpenter's tools, is the heaviest of all. The building, with its contents, was totally destroyed, and the loss is estimated at $100,000, on which there was an insurance of only $9,000.

The two-story building, No. 19, was owned and occupied by W. McCrindle, agent of the Glasgow Metal and Iron Importing Company. The building and stock was badly damaged. Insured for $30,000. The flames became so fierce and hot that the buildings on the west side of Fremont street were for a time also in danger, and it was almost impossible for any person to stand on the sidewalk. Small hose streams and buckets were brought into active use to dampen the buildings in danger, which were— the Alta Iron Works, Clark & Co's City Foundry: B. J. Sands' Eureka Grinding and Polishing Works; Jonathan Rittredge's Iron Works; and the Mechanics' Own Saloon, all of which were considerably scorched.

Before the alarm was sounded Miller & Haley's building was completely in flames and all hopes to save it soon vanished, the only object of the Department being, when they got to work, to check the flames. The fire burst out on all sides almost simultaneously and spread to the buildings on Mission and Beale streets. –


On this street a number of two-story frame buildings were destroyed on the north side. First came the two-story frame. No. 312, occupied by the Summit Ice Company, who had quite a supply of ice on hand. The building was nearly destroyed, the loss being estimated at about $4.000. No. 310 was a two-story frame, occupied by Fisher & Jamison, wheelwrights and blacksmiths, who saved part of their tools. Loss, about $2,000. .In the rear of this were two large two-story tenement houses, occupied by a number of families, who saved a portion of their furniture and clothing; but the buildings were devoured. No. 303 was a two story frame, the lower part occupied as a fruit store by Mrs. Welsh, and the upper part by three families. The northwest corner of Mission and Beale streets was occupied as a grocery store by I. Lindenberger, whose loss will be about $2,000. The building destroyed was owned by Mr. Droger; partially insured.

On the south side of the street the Portland Iron Works and one or two other frame buildings commenced to burn, but the flames were soon extinguished.


The occupants of buildings on the west side of this street were all heavy sufferers. The two-story frame adjoining the grocery store, at the corner of Mission and Beale streets, was occupied as a blacksmith shop by J. Dunn; it was destroyed. The Beale street Mill Co.'s extsrsive two story frame, Dell & Co. proprietors, was the next to be consumed. Ibis was sash, door and moulding (sic) factory, employing from twenty to thirty hands. Their tools, the machinery, lumber and other materials, were entirely burned, and the loss here will not fall short of $40,000— partially insured.

Then came McNear's coal depot. There was stored on a lot 500 tons of coal, which also took fire.

The last to be swept away was the large two story frame building occupied by Geo. T. Casebolt & Co., whose loss is estimated at $75,000, on which it is said there is an insurance of about $30,000.

The large brick Empire Warehouse, owned by C. Carlton, standing at the southwest corner of Market and Beale streets, in which $500,000 worth of goods are stored, bravely withstood the flames,

On the east side of Beale street, the following buildings were slightly damaged: No. 53, Eureka File Company, insured for $2,500. loss about $1,000. No. 51, Bailey & Co’s, iron works; No. 49. Charles Harlow’s belting factory, considerably damaged; No. 47, Eureka Salt Works.

Owing to the lateness of the hour and the excitement prevailing, it was impossible for the reporter to obtain the actual lost and the names of owners in each case.


The direful consequences of this disastrous conflagration which destroyed so much property, and for a time suspends the operations of several important industries, has also been attended with the probable lots of several lives.

It is stated that four mechanics were seen rushing into Miller & Hayley's mills for their tools, and that two were only seen to come out again.

James Davis, engineer of Doll & Co.'s mills, in attempting to made his escape from the second story of the mills, caught in the flames just as he was getting out of a window and is supposed to have perished.


John Quinn, a foreman in the Risdon Iron Works, who resides at No. 52 Mission street, was standing in the middle of the street near Beale and Mission streets when a steam engine was coming along. Before he could get out of the way, he was knocked down by the engine, the wheels passing over his body, inflicting revere injuries, he was picked up and conveyed to his home by Officer Cullen. A number of firemen received cuts on their heads and hands by the falling of timbers, and several narrowly escaped by the breaking of a ladder on which they were standing, on Mission street.

The valves of Engine No. 8 got out of order, and her services had to be dispensed with, the relief engine in the corporation yard took her place.


The crowd became so great and impeded the work of the firemen to such an extent, that the police force, under the directions of Captains Douglass and Silverthorn, commenced to stretch ropes from all corners. This was found necessary to prevent the further rush of people and to protect as much as possible the property saved and belonging to the poor families. Considerable force had to be used, in many instances, to keep the crowd from breaking through the ropes, and many were the insolent replies that officers received requesting people to keep back.


An illustration of the necessity of wagons to cart away property saved presented itself last evening, and it would be well for the Insurance Companies to adopt the measures recommended by the Fire Marshal at fires. A number of express wagons and other vehicles that could he easily brought to hand were pressed into service. Many loads of goods saved from the various establishments were placed in them, and safely taken to a distance, thereby saving them from being entirely demolished or knocked about in the streets.


Capt. Silverthorn's watch was on duty at the time the alarm was sounded, but on the general alarm being given, Captain Douglass and some of his men turned out, and all rendered efficient service. The men were well distributed in the vicinity of the fire, and all discharged their duties promptly and courteously. A sharp lookout was kept for thieves, and many persons who stood in a fair way to receive injuries were escorted out of danger.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 22, Number 7518, 21 October 1870 — TERRIBLE CONFLAGRATION [ARTICLE]


1870 October 22

Yesterday, many persons visited the scene of the disastrous conflagration of Thursday night, which was attended with such serious loss. Under the direction of the Chief Engineer, several companies were kept at work on the smoldering ruins until yesterday forenoon. The report that three men perished in the flames happily proved untrue.

A large number of men in the employ of the various establishments destroyed, were at work on the ruins picking up such pieces of machinery, and other articles of value, as could be found.

The large iron safe in the office of Miller & Haley bravely withstood the fiery element. It was taken from the ruins this morning, and without much difficulty, the heavy door van opened; the combinations being in working order, and the inside remaining perfectly intact.

Repairs have already been commenced on some of the buildings damaged. It is stated that the large force employed by Miller & Haley, have signified their intention of working a whole month without pay, to assist in rebuilding the Mills.

Following is a list of the louses so far as obtained by our reporter:

Miller & Haley, loss $100,000. Insured as follows: Oriental; $2,000: Manhattan, $2,000; Phoenix, $2,000; Hamburg and Bremen, $3,000
In one portion of the building, Bryant & Strachan, carvers, had their shop. Their loss is between $6,000 and $7000— no insurance. Heardink & Co., tobacco manufacturers, also had their factory in this building. Their loss is estimated at $10,000-no insurance.
The building of the Summit Ice Co., on Mission street, is being repaired. The stock of ice on hand was nearly all saved. 1 Their lots will not exceed $1,000.
The grocery store at the northwest corner of Mission and Beale streets, owned by Mr. Lyndenberger, was Insured for §2,000 in the Hamburg Bremen Insurance Company.
Geo. T. Casebolt & Co.'s building, on Beale street, was insured for $20.500; loss estimated at $60,000.
Adjoining McNair’s coal depot, was a one story frame building, occupied by Carl Hinz, tool manufacturer. whose loss is estimated at $3,000; insured . for $1,000 in the Occidental.
The loss of Dall & Co. mills is estimated at $40,000; small insurance.
Fisher & Jamison, wheelrights and blacksmiths, on Mission street: loss is estimated at $2,000; no insurance
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 22, Number 7519, 22 October 1870 — The Great fire. [ARTICLE]


1870 October 22

Editors Alta: Friday morning's Alta gives a long account of the terrible conflagration of Thursday evening, mentioning the names of Reynolds, Rainey, Whitney, Nuttman and Scannell, as rendering valuable assistance, and stating that the present Chief was incompetent. Reynolds and Rainey are the two Fire Commissioners who fought the long fight against two San Francisco gentlemen in electing the present Chief. Whitney is the dethroned Chief, and Nuttman and Scannell are two defeated aspirants for the position.

The fire of Thursday evening, you said, was the most terrible that has occurred since 1864, consequently all the force and ability of a well-organized Fire Department, and efficient and long experienced Assistants, were greatly needed. The present Chief is one of the oldest firemen in San Francisco, and a capable and efficient fireman. He is respected as a gentleman by all who know him. When the paid Fire Department was organized, he was elected Second Assistant, and in that capacity was so efficient, that when Chief Whitney went East and was gone two months, his absence was not felt by the Fire Department. For months before the election of the present Chief, it was known that a change in the office of Chief Engineer was inevitable, and in consequence the Fire Department was in a very demoralized condition by the time the new Chief was elected. Two inexperienced Assistants were elected about the same time. Soon after, one of them was removed, on account of holding two public offices at once. Another new Assistant was then substituted. Then comes a grand conflagration, and the Chief is accused of incompetence, when he is working with apprentices, as it were, instead of competent, experienced Assistant Engineers. It i» easy for a Chief to be capable, when he commands an organized body of well-tried and trained men; but with a large company of men, who are constantly being substituted for new ones, and inexperienced Assistants, there is cause for great lenity. That the paid Fire Department of a city should be a thing controlled by politics is a disgrace to Americans. It should be as first intended, an office of a life-time — so long as good principles and behavior ware insured. According to the present system, one set of men scarcely learn their duty, when they mast be put out of office on account of a change of politics, which must occur almost every year to keep the finances revolving.

A Friend of the Chief.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 22, Number 7519, 22 October 1870 — The Great Fire. [ARTICLE]

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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