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Great Fires: 1906 Great Earthquake & Fire

Reports of Fire Officers
San Francisco Fire Department
1906 Great Earthquake & Fire
Battalion Chief J. J. Conlon, District No. 9
 Housed with Engine Company No. 30, 1757 Waller Street, near Stanyan Street

Shortly after the earthquake I proceeded with Engine #30 to the Park Emergency Hospital, situated on the West side of Stanyan St., near Frederick St. and found this building badly wrecked, but were able to rescue the inmates from their perilous position. By cleaning the debris from in front of the stable (which is situated in the south end of the Hospital building) and cutting the doors off the hinges, we were able to remove the horses and ambulance from the damaged building.

I had ordered the Captain to try the fire alarm boxes in the street, and the telephone in the Engine House, to see if they were in working order; he reported that both the fire alarm boxes and phone were out of commission. I next proceeded to Ashbury and Waller Sts., where a fire had originated from an electric wire; after cutting this we proceeded to Masonic Ave. and Waller St. and extinguished a fire caused by lighting a fire in a defective chimney, damaged by the earthquake. The citizens in this vicinity were then instructed not to light any fires owing to the defective chimneys in their houses; at the same time cautioning the Captains in this district to patrol the streets and see that these orders were carried out. This fact alone prevented other fires from originating. While in this neighborhood I observed that a 16 inch water main had broken on the East side of Stanyan St. opposite the Park Emergency Hospital, also in several other places. (On Golden Gate Ave., near Devisadero [sic] St. I noticed a number of people working to extinguish the flames originating at this point) at the same time ordering my operator to have Engine #30 put in operation. The water supply being exceedingly poor, we had some difficulty in confining this fire to that quarter of the block in which it started. My next move was to report Chief Shaughnessy who was then extinguishing a fire at the Corner of Fulton & Laguna Sts. and as Chief Maxwell was in need of assistance I ordered Engine #30 to report immediately at Eighth and Market Sts., and upon my arrival there I noticed a fire was burning in the district bounded by Market, Howard, 7th and 8th Sts., and was then informed by Lieut. Kehoe of Truck #3 that there was no water to be had in this district.

A foreman, employed at the Railway Tunnels at Baden reported to me that he had a wagon load of dynamite and offering his services we proceeded to dynamite all the buildings on the East side of 8th St., from Market to Folsom Sts., instructing in the meantime a wagon to be sent to Baden for more explosives. My experience with dynamite did not prove entirely satisfactory, due to the fact that up to this time had never been called upon to use high grade explosives; therefore I relied upon the foreman who represented himself as having had experience in this line, to do the necessary dynamiting. I recall in one instance, that after dynamiting the two frame buildings facing 8th St., next to the N. E. Cor. Harrison St., we placed a case of dynamite on the east side of each floor, of the three story frame building situated on the N. E. Cor. of 8th and Harrison Sts., and attempted to fall this frame house into the premises previously dynamited; we failed in this however, as the building was blown in the opposite direction into the street.

It was impossible to check the fire at Folsom St., as it crossed to the West side at this point. After failing in an attempt to obtain water from the hydrants, we then endeavored to pump water from the sewers on 8th St., with Engine #5 at (Bryant) #16 (at Harrison) and #29 at (Brannan) but were unable to do so; consequently Engine #29 proceeded to 8th and Townsend Sts., where sewer water was obtainable, but was of no use as fresh water was absolutely necessary to feed our Engines.

Realizing that it was practically impossible to proceed any further in our attempt to check the fire in this vicinity I ordered the Captains to move their Engines to 6th St. In the meantime I assisted the dynamiting crew then destroying the buildings on the North side of Harrison St., between 7th and 8th Sts., this attempt was made to save the Children's Playground, but once again proved unavailing.

After this, in a last attempt to save this section, I located the Steamer Juliette on the Channel near Fourth St. This boat contained 5,000 gallons of fresh water in her tanks, and it was impossible for her to leave her moorings as the electricity which operated the bridges had been cut off; we used this supply of fresh water to feed our engines. This supply of water alone was accountable for the saving of the buildings owned by the Southern Pacific R. R. Co., and along the South side of Townsend St. to Second St. About 10 P. M. that night our fresh water supply from the Juliette ran out, and through Lieut. Freeman (US Navy) we were able to obtain 2,000 gallons more (by aid of U. S. Tug Sotoyme) and owing to this supply we saved this section of the City and also the large manufacturing plants located on the South side of Harrison St., between 10th and 14th Sts.

On Thursday morning April 19th, I received orders from Chief McKiltrick that assistance was needed at 15th & Mission Sts., and removed Engines #6, 10, 16, 35, to where he was located at 15th and Capp Sts., and then with my men I inspected hydrants in the district west of 16th St., but we could not find any available supply.

On my return I witnessed troops dynamiting both sides of Mission Street between 15th and 16th Sts.; their supply ran out, however, and consequently there was no water to be had west of Mission St.

A 22 inch water main was broken causing a large opening in the street at the Corner of 17th and Howard Sts., and I had my men dam it up with rocks, and bags of sand, making a cistern, and by connecting several lines of hose with Engines #10, 21, 25, 35, we were able to obtain a small supply of water, which we used in this vicinity.

Late Thursday night I relieved Chief McKiltrick and obtained the services of Chief Waters and three Companies; also Captain Dryer of Truck #6 then located at 14th and Market Sts. By placing Engines #10 and 25 at a cistern on 19th and Shotwell Sts., we gave battle to the fire which was then sweeping along Mission St., between 19th and 20th Sts., and were successful in extinguishing the same at the N. E. Corner of Mission and 20th Sts.

I was relieved by Chief Waters and McKiltrick at 10 A. M. Friday April 20th, and returned home at 12 P. M. after having been on duty continuously for 55 hours.

In order to state an example of the difficulties encountered by the Fire Department in this City on April 18th, 1906, I take for instance Lake Honda containing thirty three million gallons of water which was badly damaged by the quake and two-thirds of its original capacity had leaked out, to make use of this water we were compelled to use the old pump of Laguna De Merced which had been abandoned for years, its pumping capacity was only seven million gallons every 24 hours. As the New Water Mains had broken through the effects of the quake at Beulah and Stanyan Sts., and Devisadero [sic] and Hayes Sts., we were forced to use the old mains connecting with Lake Honda Reservoir. Our pressure was only one-third of its natural capacity, and instead of forty pounds pressure to the inch we were only able to obtain in this case 15 pounds.

(Signed) John J. Conlon
Chief 9th Battalion.

From the files of Battalion Chief Fred J. Bowlen, S. F. F. D.