Talking Public Safety -- The story behind the 1906 Fires is a woman on Hayes Street was cooking breakfast for her family and started one of the larger fires that day, thus the “Ham and Eggs Fire”.
We name Hurricanes and Tropical Storms, but not often do we name fires. We do name incidents, which include fires, when arriving on the scene.
This process allows communications that may be happening on different incidents to be identifiable to the specific incident, but not many fires end up named.
You have the Great Chicago Fire, which is most likely the best known fire in our country’s history, but what others have you heard of? How about the “Ham and Eggs Fire”, does that ring a bell with anyone? We remember the great Chicago Fire because it killed 300 people and destroyed 3.3 square mile of the city at a cost at the time of $200 million. This fire is also the basis for National Fire Prevention Week recognized every October.
Fast forward 35 years following the Great Chicago Fire, April 18, 1906. It was early morning in San Francisco as commuters made their way into the city to begin their workday. What was thought by many commuters on the outskirts of the city to simply be a minor earthquake soon proved wrong. The earthquake measured a 7.8 and as it ripped through the city, buildings tumbled like a house of cards, gas lines ruptured causing nearly 52 simultaneous fires within the city.
The most deadly of these fires began near Third and Howard Streets in the Chinese Laundry. Fire Station 4 was directly across the street from where the first and only reported firefighter death occurred. While the Fire Chief was also killed during this event, James O’Neil was the only shift firefighter lost.
He was assigned to Hook and Ladder 1 and was preparing to water the horses when the neighboring hotel wall collapsed through the fire house killing him. Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan was killed during the initial quake when the California Theatre collapsed sending its large dome through the adjacent fire house where the chief resided.
With the city in ruins and fires everywhere the dependence on water supply to bring this incident under control was critical. Many miles of the city’s water system were fed in waterlines that ran along the San Andreas Fault, and with the reservoirs miles outside of the city there was little to no water to fight these growing fires.
Reports from survivors talk of the haunting cries for help of the thousands trapped under rubble as the fire quickly approached, leaving rescuers no choice but to walk away from survivors less be burned alive themselves.
The story behind the Great Chicago Fire was Mrs. Oleary’s cow that kicked over the lamp starting the fire. The story behind the 1906 Fires is a woman on Hayes Street was cooking breakfast for her family and started one of the larger fires that day, thus the “Ham and Eggs Fire”. The San Francisco fire was estimated to have burned 490 city blocks, 25,000 structures, 400 million in damages, and killed 3,000 people, yet it remains a fire most have never heard nor read about.