San Francisco 1906: Earthquake and Fire – Part 4

April 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

Friday and Saturday were to bring some overdue respite from the two previous days; after continuing to burn during most of the day, the north fire died on Saturday morning when it simply ran out of combustible materials after being pretty well contained on the east side of Van Ness Avenue.

The south fire had come under control on Thursday evening with the use of a tank containing ten thousand gallons of water which was located at 22nd and Church streets. (This tank had been known but it was too far away to be of use until the fire came to its vicinity.)

By Saturday, April 22, it was apparent that the worst was over; to some extent, this meant only that so much had been destroyed that the “objectives” of the three main fires might be said to have been attained.

With the eventual publication of official reports concerning the extent of damage that resulted from the eerie holocaust to which San Francisco had been subjected, it developed that, within the over 500 city blocks that had been visited by fire, 28,188 separate buildings, many of them private dwellings, had been burned.

The assessed loss was later placed at $52,504,000 but, actually, the loss was much greater than this figure indicates for it covered only buildings as such and not all of these either, since it excluded public buildings such as the City Hall as well as churches and some other buildings not on the tax roll; also, the figure does not include personal property loss which, naturally, was very high in the burned areas.

This consisted of 3,400 acres which meant, that, in a city of comparatively small size, 4.11 square miles were destroyed, comprising the very heart of the city. Later, insurance experts estimated that about four-fifths of the property value of San Francisco had gone up in smoke, while they tabulated the total loss suffered by the city and its inhabitants at between $350 million and $400 million.

Small wonder, then, that it reads in the history books of the San Francisco Disaster, that it is called the ”greatest conflagration in historic times.” At least, there appear to be no rivals to San Francisco’s claim to this dubious distinction.

Reference will be made to the efficient service rendered by Mayor Eugene Schmitz during the days of earthquake and fire. More explicit mention should be made now of the fact that, at no time, and this despite many assertions to the contrary, was martial law imposed upon San Francisco: at all times, the military and other federal and state forces were, while efficiently rendering much needed services, under civil jurisdiction.

Because some still seem willing to dispute this point, it may help to destroy, once and for all, the legend about San Francisco being subjected to martial law. This type of law is defined as “an arbitrary law proclaimed directly from the military power” and it is easy to establish that this sort of law was never the case in San Francisco at this time. Always and ever, the civil government, headed by Mayor Schmitz and other responsible and capable public officials, was at the helm during the emergency.

The mayor quickly formed a Committee of Safety, which, with him, governed the city but, as indicated, it was always a municipal administration and not a military one.

A later official report of Major General Adolphus Greely, commanding the US. Army’s Pacific division, included another report of his subordinate, Brigadier General Frederick Funston, in which the latter made it explicit that, in the earlier absence of his superior officer, General Greely, he had dispatched 500 soldiers from the Presidio to report to the mayor for any necessary and needed services. His statement was that ”the troops continued, during the day (April 18) to assist the police and fire department in every possible way.”

A final quotation from the important Greely report is mentioned here:

… My instructions and directions all tended to complete subordination to the civil power and to urgent public needs, from which policy the slightest deviation was never sanctioned.

After the earthquake, relief and reconstruction phases followed the unforgettable days of 1906 in San Francisco.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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