There were two ideas in the minds of the fugitives, and in many cases these two only. One of these was to escape to the open ground of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio reservation; the other was to reach the ferry and make their way out of the seemingly doomed city.
At the ferry building a crowd numbering thousands gathered, begging for food and transportation across the bay. Hundreds had not even the ten cents fare to Oakland. Most of the refugees at this point were Chinamen and Italians, who had fled from their burned tenements with little or no personal property.
Residents of the hillsides in the central portion of the city seemingly were safe from the inferno of flames that was consuming the business section. They watched the towering mounds of flames, and speculated as to the extent of the territory that was doomed. Suddenly there was whispered alarm up and down the long line of watchers, and they hurried away to drag clothing, cooking utensils and scant provisions through the streets. From Grant Avenue the procession moved westward. Men and women dragged trunks, packed huge bundles of blankets, boxes of provisions—everything. Wagons could not be hired except by paying the most extortionate rates.
“Thank Heaven for the open space of the Presidio and for Golden Gate Park!” was the unspoken thank-offering of many hearts. The great park, with its thousand and more acres of area, extending from the thinly populated part of the city across the sand dunes to the Pacific, seemed in that awful hour a God-given place of refuge. Near it and extending to the Golden Gate channel is the Presidio military reservation, containing 1,480 acres, and with only a few houses on its broad extent. Here also was a place of safety, provided that the forests which form a part of its area did not burn.
To these open spaces, to the suburbs, in every available direction, the fugitives streamed, in thousands, in tens of thousands, finally in hundreds of thousands, safety from those towering flames, from the tottering walls of their dwellings, from a possible return of the earthquake, their one overmastering thought. There were many persons with scanty clothing, women in underskirts and thin waists and men in shirt sleeves. Many women carried children, while others wheeled baby carriages. It was a strange and weird procession, that kept up unceasingly all that dreadful day and through the night that followed, as the all-conquering flames spread the area of terror.