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The Great San Francisco Fire of 1906

Nov 27, 2007
On April 18, 1906 the dreaded San Andreas Fault decided it had had enough. The colossal pressure that had built up on it over the years reached the breaking point and the fault gave in. Starting at 5:12 AM an earthquake registering at 8.25 on the Richter scale struck the city. The main quake lasted only about a minute and was followed by two weaker after shocks but the damage inflicted was incredible.

As the earth shook back and forth tall buildings collapsed, the streets buckled, the electric power was cut and perhaps worst of all the citys water mains ruptured. This left San Franciscos heroic fire department with no water to fight the fires that soon began raging out of control. The fires raged across the city for three days before they finally burned themselves out. There was panic in the streets as terrified citizens ran to escapes the flames.

The chief of the fire department sent a message to the Presidio army base requesting dynamite and though martial law was never officially declared army troops began marching into the shattered city. Mayor Eugene Schmitz order the troops to shoot looters on sight as this was necessary to prevent lawless anarchy from ensuing and as many as 500 thieves were in fact shot and killed. The dynamite was used to blow up buildings in the path of the gathering fires in the hope of creating fire breaks that would stop the spread of the inferno.

Unfortunatly, the fires proved unstoppable and some 500 city blocks burned to the ground. This may have been partly the result of the fact that the insurance companies would not pay out for a building damaged by an earthquake. They would only pay out if the building was damaged by fire and it is rumored that some people set fire to their own earthquake damaged buildings to make sure they would get the insurance money. However the fires were started they did far more damage to the city than the earthquake itself.

Though it is impossible to calculate how many people were killed in the fire the best estimate seems to be about 3000. Almost 28,000 buildings were destroyed and some 5 square miles of the city lay in ruins. The property loss at the time was estimated at 400 million dollars and 225 thousand people were left homeless.
Temporary shelters called relief houses were built for the displaced citizens but these could only house 20 thousand people.

Planning for the reconstruction of the city was immediately undertaken and surprisingly little thought was given to improving building code safety standards. Nonetheless, reconstruction went ahead very quickly and the result was that a large portion of the buildings were not built to higher safety standards as they should have been. To this day there are still questions about the safety of many buildings in San Francisco and we can only hope such a catastrophe never happens again.
About the Author
Burl Collins is the owner of MSRD Inc and invites you to visit the MSRD Inc Forum For more information see also Free Article Text and Free Text Articles
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