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Up in Flames

sanfran.jpgOne-hundred-and-one years ago tomorrow, the last of the fires resulting from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake were quelled, but only after destroying nearly 28,000 buildings spread over nearly five square miles of the city and surrounding county. Though the April 18 earthquake was one of the greatest in magnitude the continental U.S. has ever seen, the subsequent fire, fueled by ruptured underground gas lines, was far more destructive. By the afternoon of April 18, San Francisco's mayor had authorized a series of escalating measures to halt the blaze, from a "shoot-to-kill" order regarding looters or people interfering with firefighters to the use of explosives to create firebreaks. Unfortunately, the explosives used were themselves flammable, and only served to feed the blaze.

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco has a fantastic amount of information about the 1906 disaster, including eyewitness accounts, newspaper clippings, seismic information, and photographs of the aftermath that have to be seen to be believed. I particularly liked one eyewitness account: an article by Jack London, who after witnessing the disaster firsthand told his wife, "I'll never write about this for anybody, no, I'll never write a word about it. What use trying? Only could one string big words together and curse the futility of them."

Of course, London changed his mind when Collier's magazine offered a then-unheard-of 25 cents per word for his 2,000+ word article. (The per-word rate would be the highest amount London ever earned for any of his writing.) Read the article, or check out the rest of the exhibit, at the links below.

Jack London's "The Story of an Eyewitness"
Earthquake Exhibit [Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco]


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