THE third day of the fire was attended by many spectacular features, many scenes of disaster and many acts of daring heroism.
When night came the fire was raging over fifty acres of the water front lying between Bay street and the end of Meiggs and Fisherman’s wharf. To the eastward it extended down to the sea wall, but had not reached the piers, which lay a quarter of a mile toward the east.
The cannery and warehouses of the Central California Canneries Company, together with 20,000 cases of canned fruit, was to-tally destroyed, as also was the Simpson and other lumber companies’ yards.
The flames reached the tanks of the San Francisco Gas Company, which had previously been pumped out, and had burned the ends of the grain sheds, five in number, which extended further out toward the point.
Flame and smoke hid from view the vessels that lay off shore vainly attempting to check the fire. No water was available except from the waterside and it was not until almost dark that the department was able to turn its attention to this point.
At dusk the fire had been checked at Van Ness avenue and Filbert street. The buildings on a high slope between Van Ness and Polk, Union and Filbert streets were blazing fiercely, fanned by a high wind, but the blocks were so sparsely settled that the fire had but a slender chance of crossing Van Ness at that point.
Mayor Schmitz, who directed operations at that point, conferred with the military authorities and decided that it was not necessary to dynamite the buildings on the west side of Van Ness. As much of the fire department as could be collected was assembled to make a stand at that point.
To add to the horrors of the general situation and the general alarm of many people who ascribed the cause of the subterranean trouble to another convulsion of nature, explosions of sewer gas have ribboned and ribbed many streets. A Vesuvius in miniature was created by such an upheaval at Bryant and Eighth streets. Cobblestones were hurled twenty feet upward and dirt vomited out of the ground. This situation added to the calamity, as it was feared the sewer gas would breed disease.
Thousands were roaming the streets famishing for food and water and while supplies were coming in by the train loads the system of distribution was not in complete working order.
Many thousands had not tasted food or water for two and three days. They were on the verge of starvation.
The flames were checked north of Telegraph hill, the western boundary being along Franklin street and California street southeast to Market street. The firemen checked the advance of flames by dynamiting two large residences and then backfiring. Many times before had the firemen made such an effort, but always previously had they met defeat.
But success at that hour meant little for San Francisco. The flames still burned fitfully about the city, but the spread of fire had been checked.
A three-story lodging house at Fifth and Minna streets collapsed and over seventy-five dead bodies were taken out. There were at least fifty other dead bodies exposed. This building was one of the first to take fire on Fifth street. At least 100 people were lost in the Cosmopolitan on Fourth street.
The only building standing between Mission, Howard, East and Stewart streets was the San Pablo hotel. The shot tower at First and Howard streets was gone. This landmark was built forty years ago. The Risdon Iron works were partially destroyed. The Great Western Smelting and Refining works escaped damages, also the Mutual Electric Light works, with slight damage to the American Rubber Company, Vietagas Engine Company, Folger Brothers’ coffee and spice house was also uninjured and the firm gave away large quantities of bread and milk.
Over 150 people were lost in the Brunswick hotel, Seventh and Mission streets.
The soldiers who rendered such heroic aid took the cue from General Funston. He had not slept. He was the real ruler of San Francisco. All the military tents available were set up in the Presidio and the troops were turned out of the barracks to bivouac on the ground.
In the shelter tents they placed first the sick, second the more delicate of the women, and third, the nursing mothers, and in the afternoon he ordered all the dead buried at once in a temporary cemetery in the Presidio grounds. The recovered bodies were carted about the city ahead of, the flames.
Many lay in the city morgue until the fire reached that; then it was Portsmouth square until it grew too hot; afterwards they were taken to the Presidio. There was another stream of bodies which had lain in Mechanics’ pavilion at first, and had then been laid out in Columbia square, in the heart of a district devastated first by the earthquake and then by fire.
The condition of the bodies was becomnig a great danger. Yet the troops had no men to spare to dig graves, and the young and able bodied men were mainly fighting on the fire line or. utterly exhausted.
It was Funston who ordered that the old men and the weaklings should take this work in hand. They did it willingly enough, but had they refused the troops on guard would have forced them. It was ruled that every man physically capable of handling a spade or a pick should dig for an hour. When the first shallow graves were ready the men, under the direction of the troops, lowered the bodies several in a grave, and a strange burial began.
The women gathered about crying; many of them knelt while a Catholic priest read the burial service and pronounced absolution. All the afternoon this went on.
Representatives of the city authorities took the names of as many of the dead as could be identified and the descriptions of the others. Many, of course, will never be identified.
So confident were the authorities that they had the situation in control at the end of the third day that Mayor Schmitz issued the following proclamation:
“To the Citizens of San Francisco: The fire is now under control and all danger is passed. The only fear is that other fires may start should the people build fires in their stoves and I therefore warn all citizens not to build fires in their homes until the chimneys have been inspected and repaired properly. All citizens are urged to discountenance the building of fires. I congratulate the citizens of San Francisco upon the fortitude they have displayed and I urge upon them the necessity of aiding the authorities in the work of relieving the destitute and suffering. For the relief of those persons who are encamped in the various sections of the city everything possible is being done. In Golden Gate park, where there are approximately 200,000 home-less persons, relief stations have been established. The Spring Valley Water Company has informed me that the Mission district will be supplied with water this afternoon, between 10,000 and 12,000 gallons daily being available. Lake Merced will be taken by the federal troups and that supply protected.
“Eugene E. Schmitz, Mayor.”
Although the third day of San Francisco’s desolation dawned with hope, it ended in despair.
In the early hours of the day the flames, which had raged for thirty-six hours, seemed to be checked.
Then late in the afternoon a fierce gale of wind from the northwest set in and by 7 o’clock the conflagration, with its energy restored, was sweeping over fifty acres of the water front.
The darkness and the wind, which at times amounted to a gale, added fresh terrors to the situation. The authorities considered conditions so grave that it was decided to swear in immediately 1,000 special policemen armed with rifles furnished by the federal government.
In addition to this force, companies of the national guard arrived from many interior points.
In the forenoon, when it was believed the fire had been checked, the full extent of the destitution and suffering of the people was seen for the first time in near perspective. While the whole city was burning there was no thought of food or shelter, death, injury, privation, or loss. The dead were left unburied and the living were left to find food and a place to sleep where they could.
On the morning of the third day, however, the indescribable destitution and suffering were borne in upon the authorities with crushing force. Dawn found a line of men, women, and children, numbering thousands, awaiting morsels of food at the street bakeries. The police and military were present in force, and each person was allowed only one loaf.
A big bakery was started early in the morning in the outskirts of the city, with the announcement that it would turn out 50,000 loaves of bread before night. The news spread and thousands of hungry persons crowded before its doors before the first deliveries were hot from the oven. Here again police and soldiers kept order and permitted each person to take only one loaf. The loaves were given out without cost.
These precautions were necessary, for earlier in the day bread had sold as high as $1 a loaf and two loaves and a can of sardines brought in one instance $3.50.
Mayor Schmitz took prompt and drastic steps to stop this extortion. By his order all grocery and provision stores in the outlying districts which had escaped the flames were entered by the police and their goods confiscated.
Next to the need for food there was a cry for water, which until Friday morning the authorities could not answer.
In spite of all efforts to relieve distress there was indescribable suffering.
Women and children who had comfortable, happy homes a few days before slept that night-if sleep came at allon hay on the wharves, on the sand lots near North beach, some of them under the little tents made of sheeting, which poorly protected them from the chilling ocean winds. The people in the parks were better provided in the matter of shelter, for they left their homes better prepared.
Thousands of members of families were separated, ignorant of one another’s whereabouts and without means of ascertaining. The police on Friday opened up a bureau of registration to bring relatives together.
The work of burying the dead was begun Friday for the first time. Out at the Presidio soldiers pressed into service all men who came near and forced them to labor at burying the dead. So thick were the corpses piled up that they were becoming a men-ace, and early in the day the order was issued to bury them at any cost. The soldiers were needed for other work, so, at the point of rifles, the citizens were compelled to take the work of burying. Some objected at first, but the troops stood no trifling, and every man who came in reach was forced to work at least one hour. Rich men who had never done such work labored by the side of the workingmen digging trenches in the sand for the sepulcher of those who fell in the awful calamity. Ai the present writing many still remain unburied and the soldiers are still pressing men into service.
The Folsom street dock was turned into a temporary hospital, the harbor hospital being unable to accommodate all the injured who were brought there.
About 100 patients were stretched on the dock at one time. In the evening tugs conveyed them to Goat Island, where they were lodged in the hospital. The docks from Howard street to Folsom street had been saved, and the fire at this point was not permitted to creep farther east than Main street.
The work of clearing up the wrecked city has already begun at the water front in the business section of the town. A force of 100, men were employed under the direction of the street department clearing up the debris and putting the streets in proper condition.
It was impossible to secure a vehicle except at extortionate prices. One merchant engaged a teamster and horse and wagon, agreeing to pay $50 an hour. Charges of $20 for carrying trunks a few blocks were common. The police and military seized teams wherever they required them, their wishes being enforced at revolver point if the owner proved indisposed to comply with the demands.
Up and down the broad avenues of the parks the troops pa-trolled, keeping order. This was difficult at times, for the second hysterical stage had succeeded the paralysis of the first day and people were doing strange things. A man, running half naked, tearing at his clothes, and crying, “The end of all things has come!” was caught by the soldiers and placed under arrest.
Under a tree on the broad lawn of the children’s playground a baby was born. By good luck there was a doctor there, and the women helped out, so that the mother appeared to be safe. They carried her later to the children’s building in the park and did their best to make her comfortable.
All night wagons mounted with barrels and guarded by soldiers drove through the park doling out water. There was always a crush about these wagons and but one drink was allowed to a person.
Separate supplies were sent to the sick in the tents. The troops allowed no camp fires, fearing that the trees of the park might catch and drive the people out of this refuge to the open and windswept sands by the ocean.
The wind which had saved the heights came cold across the park, driving a damp fog, and for those who had no blankets it was a terrible night, for many of them were exhausted and must sleep, even in the cold. They threw themselves down in the wet grass and fell asleep.
When the morning came the people even prepared to make the camp permanent. An ingenious man hung up before his little blanket shelter a sign on a stick giving his name and address be-fore the fire wiped him out. This became a fashion, and it was taken to mean that the space was preempted.
Toward midnight a black, staggering body of men began to weave through the entrance. They were volunteer fire fighters, looking for a place to throw themselves down and sleep. These men dropped out all along the line and were rolled out of the driveways by the troops.
There was much splendid unselfishness there. Women gave up their blankets and sat up or walked about all night to cover exhausted men who had fought fire until there was no more fight in them.