Had all been like these the entire city would have been doomed, but there were those at the head of affairs who never for a moment gave up their resolution. Dynamite and giant powder were to be had in the Presidio military reservation, and a requisition upon the army authorities was made. The louder reverberations as the day advanced and night came on showed that a fresh supply had been obtained, and that a new and determined campaign against the conflagration had been entered upon. Hitherto much of the work had been ignorantly and carelessly done, and by the hasty and premature use of explosives more harm than good had been occasioned.
As the fire continued to spread in spite of the heroic work of the fighting corps, the Committee of Safety called a meeting at noon on Friday and decided to blow up all the residences on the east side of Van Ness Avenue, between Golden Gate and Pacific Avenues, a distance of one mile. Van Ness Avenue is one of the most fashionable streets of the city and has a width of 125 feet, a fact which led to the idea that a safety line might be made here too broad for the flames to cross.
The firemen, therefore, although exhausted from over twenty-four hours’ work and lack of food, determined to make a desperate stand at this point. They declared that should the fire cross Van Ness Avenue and the wind continue its earlier direction toward the west, the destruction of San Francisco would be virtually complete. The district west of Van Ness Avenue and north of McAllister constitutes the finest part of the metropolis. Here are located all of the finer homes of the well-to-do and wealthier classes, and the resolution to destroy them was the last resort of desperation.
Hundreds of police, regiments of soldiers and scores of volunteers were sent into the doomed district to warn the people to flee. They heroically responded to the demand of law and went bravely on their way, leaving their loved homes and trudging painfully over the pavements with the little they could carry away of their treasured possessions.
The reply of a grizzled fire engineer standing at O’Farrell Street and Van Ness Avenue, beside a blackened engine, may not have been as terse as that of Hugo’s guardsman at Waterloo, but the pathos of it must have been as great. In answer to the question of what they proposed to do, he said:
“We are waiting for it to come. When it gets here we will make one more stand. If it crosses Van Ness Avenue the city is gone.”
Yet the work now to be done was much too important to be left to the hands of untrained volunteers. Skilled engineers were needed, men used to the scientific handling of explosives, and it was men of this kind who finally saved what is left to-day of the city. Three men saved San Francisco, so far as any San Francisco existed after the fire had worked its will, these three constituting the dynamite squad who faced and defied the demon at Van Ness Avenue.