The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 claimed over 3,000 lives. Even the fire chief, Dennis T. Sullivan, was fatally wounded that day when the chimney of a neighboring building collapsed on him.
The earthquake and subsequent fires, though devastating, shaped the city for future safety and fire prevention.
That day, 90% of the destruction occurred after the initial 7.8 earthquake, in fires. There were over 30 fires, destroying approximately 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks. Complicated by ruptured water mains and quaking disasters all over the Bay Area, the city’s conflagration lasted three days, levelled 80% of the city.
Over a century has passed since then, and residents are often assured there will never be anything so catastrophic again. An annual celebration of the survival of the city occurs every April 18 at 5:12 a.m., the time the 1906 earthquake hit.
A post I wrote last year about the celebration: Celebrating Survival.
Protective laws and regulations, neighborhood preparedness, and numerous preventative systems are in place.
If you drive around San Francisco, for example, every once in awhile you will find an intersection with a large circle made of bricks. There are 177 of them. Measuring 32 feet (9.75M) in diameter, the circle indicates there is a huge underground concrete vault filled with 75,000 gallons (284,000 L) of water; reserved for any emergency. (Photo at end.)
With neighborhood houses typically built abutting each other, in a region that only gets rainfall during half the year (if that), this city relies heavily on their fire department.
San Francisco is only 47 square miles in size, yet it has 51 neighborhood fire stations. SFFD Wikipedia info.
I researched residential fires in San Francisco for my recently published mystery novel. I learned a lot about the devastation of fire. I visited fire stations, peered in, took notes, talked to firefighters.
One day I visited San Francisco’s Fire Museum. It is a small add-on section to a busy fire station, located in the Pacific Hts. neighborhood. Museum info here.
That day they were getting ready for a public event, and the station was lively with firefighters moving fire trucks, preparing the space for visitors.
The glass case displays were loaded with memorabilia, old equipment and hoses, and old photos. There were numerous old trucks, shiny and in mint condition.
About a dozen people were moving a big old truck, and as they did, they proudly reminisced about using that truck to help in “the Loma Prieta” (large 1989 earthquake) when all the newer trucks were out fighting fires.
I stood on the sideline, intrigued by it all, staying out of the way. They talked in a language that was filled with codes and details of which I was unfamiliar. They moved with swiftness and strength, and worked together in comradery and unity.
I have more respect than ever for firefighters. They carry a heavy responsibility, these warriors of fire; and they do so with grace and pride.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified
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