Two theatrical people were in a hotel in Santa Rosa when the shock came. The room was on the fourth floor. The roof collapsed. One of them was thrown from the bed and both were caught by the descending timbers and pinned helplessly beneath the debris. They could speak to each other and could touch one another’s hands, but the weight was so great that they could do nothing to liberate themselves. After three hours rescuers came, cut a hole in the roof and both were released uninjured.
Even the docks were converted into hospitals in the stringent exigency of the occasion, about 100 patients being stretched on Folsom street dock at one time. In the evening tugs conveyed them to Goat Island, where they were lodged in the hospital. The docks from Howard Street to Folsom Street had been saved, the fire at this point not being permitted to creep farther east than Main Street. Another series of fatalities occurred, caused by the stampeding of a herd of cattle at Sixth and Folsom Streets. Three hundred of the panic-stricken animals ran amuck when they saw and felt the flames and charged wildly down the street, trampling under foot all who were in the way. One man was gored through and through by a maddened bull. At least a dozen persons’, it is said, were killed, though probably this is an overestimate. One observer tells us that “the first sight I saw was a man with blood streaming from his wounds, carrying a dead woman in his arms. He placed the body on the floor of the court at the Palace Hotel, and then told me he was the janitor of a big building. The first he knew of the catastrophe he found himself in the basement, his dead wife beside him. The building had simply split in two, and thrown them down.”
In the camps of refuge the deaths came frequently. Physicians were everywhere in evidence, but, without medicine or instruments, were fearfully handicapped. Men staggered in from their herculean efforts at the fire lines, only to fall gasping on the grass. There was nothing to be done. Injured lay groaning. Tender hands were willing, but of water there was none. “Water, water, for God’s sake get me some water,” was the cry that struck into thousands of souls of San Francisco.
The list of dead was not confined to San Francisco, but extended to many of the neighboring towns, especially to Santa Rosa, where sixty were reported dead and a large number missing, and to the insane asylum in its vicinity, from the ruins of which a hundred or more of dead bodies were taken.
A citizen tells us that “in the early part of the evening, and while the twilight lasts, there is a good deal of trafficking up and down the sidewalks. Having finished their dinners of government provisions, cooked on the street or in the parks, the people promenade for half an hour or so. By half-past eight the town is closed tight. A rat scurrying in the street will bring a soldier’s rifle to his shoulder. Any one not wearing a uniform or a Red Cross badge is a suspicious character and may be shot unless he halts at command. Even the men in uniform do well to stop still, for it is hard to tell a uniform in the half light thrown up by the burning town and the great shadows.