“Not knowing San Francisco, you would not know the various buildings, but fires were blazing in all directions, and all of the finest and best of the office and business buildings were either burning or surrounded. They pumped water from the bay, but the fire was soon too far away from the water front to make any efforts in this direction of much avail. The water mains had been broken by the earthquake, and so there was no supply for the fire engines and they were helpless. The only way out of it was to dynamite, and I saw some of the finest and most beautiful buildings in the city, new modern palaces, blown to atoms. First they blew up one or two buildings at a time. Finding that of no avail, they took half a block; that was no use; then they took a block; but in spite of them all the fire kept on spreading.
“The City Hall, which, while old, was quite a magnificent building, occupying a large square block of land, was completely wrecked by the earthquake, and to look upon reminded one of the pictures of ancient ruins of Rome or Athens. The Palace Hotel stood for a long time after everything near it had gone, but finally went up in smoke as the rest. You could not look in any direction in the city but what mass after mass of flame stared you in the face. To get about one had to dodge from one street to another, back and forth in zigzag fashion, and half an hour after going through a street, it would be impassable. One after another of the magnificent business blocks went down. The newer buildings seemed to have withstood the shock better than any others, except well-built frame buildings. The former lost some of the outside shell, but the frame stood all right, and in some cases after fire had eaten them all to pieces, the steel skeleton, although badly twisted and warped, still stood.
“When I finally left the city, it was all in flames as far as Eighth Street, which is about a mile and a quarter or half from the water front. I had to walk at least two miles around in order to get to the ferry building, and when I got there you could see no buildings standing in any direction. Nearly all the docks caved in or sheds were knocked down, and all the streets along the water front were a mass of seams, upheavals and depressions, car tracks twisted in all shapes. Cars that had stood on sidings were all in ashes and still burning.”
Wednesday’s conflagration continued unabated throughout Thursday, and it was not until late on Friday that the fire-fighters got it safely under control. They worked like heroes, struggling almost without rest, keeping up the nearly hopeless conflict until they fairly fell in their tracks from fatigue. Handicapped by the lack of water, they in one case brought it from the bay through lines of hose well on to a mile in length. Yet despite all they could do block after block of San Francisco’s greatest buildings succumbed to the flames and sank in red ruin before their eyes.