Here is a story told by one observer of incidents in the city during the fire:
“I talked to one man who slept in Alta Plaza. The fire was going on in the district south of them, and at intervals all night exhausted fire-fighters made their way to the plaza and dropped, with the breath out of them, among the huddled people and the bundles of household goods. The soldiers, who are administering affairs with all the justice of judges and all the devotion of heroes, kept three or four buckets of water, even from the women, for these men, who kept coming all night long. There was a little food, also kept by the soldiers for these emergencies, and the sergeant had in his charge one precious bottle of whisky, from which he doled out drinks to those who were utterly exhausted.
“Over in a corner of the plaza a band of men and women were praying, and one fanatic, driven crazy by horror, was crying out at the top of his voice:
“‘The Lord sent it, the Lord!’
“His hysterical crying got in the nerves of the soldiers and bade fair to start a panic among the women and children, so the sergeant went over and stopped it by force. All night they huddled together in this hell, with the fire making it bright as day on all sides; and in the morning the soldiers, using their sense again, commandeered a supply of bread from a bakery, sent out another water squad, and fed the refugees with a semblance of breakfast.
“There was one woman in the crowd who had been separated from her husband in a rush of the smoke and did not know whether he was living. The women attended to her all night and in the morning the soldiers passed her through the lines in her search. A few Chinese made their way into the crowd. They were trembling, pitifully scared and willing to stop wherever the soldiers placed them. This is only a glimpse of the horrible night in the parks and open places.
“We learn here that many of the well-to-do people in the upper residence district have gathered in the strangers from the highways and byways and given them shelter and comfort for the night in their living rooms and drawing rooms. Shelter seems to have come more easily than food. Not an ounce of supplies, of course, has come in for two days, and most of the permanent stores are in the hands of the soldiers, who dole them out to all comers alike. But the hungry cannot always find the military stores and the news has not gotten about, since there are no newspapers and no regular means of communication.
“An Italian tells me that he was taken in by a family living in a three-story house in the fashionable Pacific Avenue. There were twenty refugees who passed the night in the drawing room of that house, whose mistress took down hangings to make them comfortable. In the morning all the food that was left over in that home of wealth was enough flour and baking powder to shake together a breakfast for the refugees. They were hardly ready to leave that house when the fire came their way, and the people of the house, together with the refugees, who included two Chinese, made their way to the open ground of the Presidio. With them streamed a procession of folks carrying valuables in bundles.