At intervals news came of what was doing behind the smoke cloud. The area of the flames spread all night. People who had decided that their houses were outside of the dangerous area and had decided to pass the night, even after the terrible experience of the shake-up, under their roofs, hourly gave up the idea and struggled to the parks. There they lay in blankets, their choicest valuables by their sides, and the soldiers kept watch and order. Many lay on the bare grass of the park, with nothing between them and the chill night air. Fortunately, the weather was clear and mild, but among those who lay under the open sky were men and women who were delicately reared, accustomed all their lives to luxurious surroundings, and these must have suffered severely during that night of terror.
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 were 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 continued to come all the 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.
But there was no panic. The people were calm, stunned. They did not seem to realize the extent of the calamity. They heard that the city was being destroyed; they told each other in the most natural tone that their residences were destroyed by the flames, but there was no hysteria, no outcry, no criticism.
The trip to the hills and to the water front was one of terrible hardship. Famishing women and children and exhausted men were compelled to walk seven miles around the north shore in order to avoid the flames and reach the ferries. Many dropped to the street under the weight of their loads, and willing fathers and husbands, their strength almost gone, strove to pick up and urge them forward again.
In the panic many mad things were done. Even soldiers were obliged in many instances to prevent men and women, made insane from the misfortune that had engulfed them, from rushing into doomed buildings in the hope of saving valuables from the ruins. In nearly every instance such action resulted in death to those who tried it. At Larkin and Sutter Streets, two men and a woman broke from the police and rushed into a burning apartment house, never to reappear.
The rush to the parks and the dunes was followed in the days that followed by as wild a rush to the ferries, due to the mad desire to escape anywhere, in any way, from the burning city.