An excerpt from “Let No Stranger Wait Outside Your Door”
At six o’clock in the morning on Christmas Eve, during the Gold Rush in 1849, San Franciscans experienced their first major fire. The town was nothing more than an unorganized mess of a few brick buildings that formed the core, surrounded by hastily built wooden houses, tents, and even old hulls of ships that could no longer float. The thousands of people arriving to search for gold, and those who supplied them, lived in anything they could find for protection from the elements. During the first three years, six major fires, one after the other, leveled the city despite the best efforts of people to protect it. Even today, in defiance of all our modern technology, if you hang around San Francisco for any length of time you are bound to become familiar with fire. Rows of tinder dry, multistory redwood buildings, many sharing common walls, still allow city residents to occasionally experience, and become victims of, a perfect storm.