Wednesday, August 27, 2008

San Francisco Is Burning

San Francisco Is Burning: The Untold Story of the 1906 Earthquake and Fires by Dennis Smith was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 294 pages. Early in the morning of April 18, beginning at 5:12, San Francisco experienced the great earthquake of 1906 that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. After the earthquake came the fires. Through the stories of several different people, Smith tells the story of the fires following the earthquake in this historical narrative. This is an interesting book and will highly appeal to those who would pick up a nonfiction on this subject. Rating: 4

Synopsis from back cover:
Killing hundreds and leaving a city in ruins, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 stands as one of the greatest natural disasters in American history. But the aftermath of the quake - the fires that raged across the city for days and claimed the lives of thousands more - was an all too human disaster whose story has remained largely untold. Until now....

Dennis Smith reconstructs those harrowing days from the perspective of the people who lived through them. Smith draws on hundreds of individual accounts and official documents to unearth the true story of the fires - from the corrupt officials who left the city woefully unprepared for disaster, to the militia officers who enforced martial law with deadly force, to the individual heroes who battled the blaze and saved untold lives. San Francisco is Burning is a thrilling account the brings a chapter of history compellingly back to life.

Outside of war, the San Francisco fire of 1906 is bigger than any metropolitan fire in history. The four-day event took more than 3,000 lives, burned through 28,188 buildings, flattened 522 blocks, destroyed tens of churches, 9 libraries, 37 national banks, the Pacific Stock Exchange, 3 major newspaper buildings..., 2 opera houses, and the largest, most richly appointed imperial hotel in the era of turn-of-the-last-century opulence. More than 200,000 people were burned out of their homes..." pg. 3

"The story of the San Francisco earthquake and fires is a hard story of numbing imbalance, of corruption and virtue, of stupidity and enlightenment, and most of all, of cowardice and courage. It is also a story of peculiar fire-loading conditions and of a geological vulnerability that is very dangerous - factors that have proven to be ruinous." pg. 3

"Walter Cook looked out of a window from this high vantage point over the city and what he saw was astounding. Fires were raging in every direction, all burning freely, fifty alarms reported in that first half hour alone, caused by overturned candles, heaters, broken flue pipes, and ashes spread from toppled cooking stoves. Only one thought must have run through his mind: San Francisco is burning." pg. 63

"Disaster is a word that we humans attach to an event to give it status or simply nomenclature, but for the earth an earthquake is no more disastrous than the opening of a lilac's petals. It is part of the natural order, like wildfires, tsunamis, landslides, avalanches, floods, drought, blizzards, cyclones, tornadoes, and lightening, and becomes catastrophic only when human beings are involved." pg. 68

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