Earthquake/Fire, 1906

I’ve been reading about the San Francisco’s earthquake and fire in 1906. The earthquake was about an 8.0 and it occurred at 5:12 a.m. on April 18th. The quake did an extreme amount of damage, but the fires that followed the quake are what devastated the city. These fires started for many reasons, but recently I was shocked to find out that the fire department and the homeowners were to blame for a great deal of the destruction.

With the fire chief having died in the quake, the “stand in” chief decided to use dynamite to make fire breaks throughout the city. This not only destroyed many buildings, but it also sparked many fires. Honestly, they did the best they could in that situation. I wonder if things would have been different if the fire chief had lived through the quake.

Another surprising thing is that the homeowners started fires in their own houses. Many of the residents of San Francisco did not have earthquake insurance, so word got around quickly that unless the structure is destroyed by fire, the insurance would not pay for the repairs. In order to get help for repairs, homeowners started their houses on fire which contributed to the inferno that destroyed San Francisco.

Could this happen today? Yes! I doubt that they will use dynamite again, but homeowners setting fire to their property is definitely a possibility. According to the California Earthquake Authority, only 12 percent of people in California have earthquake insurance. In San Francisco, a large majority (80 to 90 percent of the buildings) do not have earthquake insurance. Because of the expense of this type of insurance, most people instead pay for retrofits for their homes and pray the reinforcement will work. Just like in 1906, everyone has fire insurance, but few have earthquake insurance.

I think we are setting ourselves up for another fire storm when catastrophe strikes again in the San Francisco area. But, I can’t really dwell on that. In fact, I tell myself that it won’t happen while I am here. Is this delusional or just a way to cope with a possible threat that I have no control over? If it does happen, I am convinced that I will be the Molly Brown of San Francisco.

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