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Spanish Presidio Crest


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1906 refugee camp near Letterman Hospital. Credit: Bob Bowen Collection
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The 1906 Earthquake and Fire

In the early dawn light of April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., the ground under San Francisco shook violently for a less than a minute. Damage from the earthquake was severe, but the ensuing fires were truly catastrophic. Thirty fires began almost immediately. Burning for three days, they destroyed over 500 city blocks in the heart of the city. The city's water pipes were shattered by the quake and little could be done to stop the inferno from incinerating all in its path. Overcome by shock, panic and confusion, over half of the city's 400,000 people would end up homeless. The number of dead is controversial but probably lies between 500 and 3,000.

In the days following the earthquake, the newly homeless needed food and shelter. Fortunately for the city, army troops stationed at posts that are now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area responded within hours. They maintained order, fought the fires, established communications, gave medical treatment and provided food, shelter and sanitation. San Franciscans were never more aware of, never more interactive with, and certainly never more grateful to the army than after that disaster. This is a story of heroism and valor, order and organization, as well as conflict and controversy.

Select the links to the left to learn more about the military's role.

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  Page last updated: August 25, 2004 "Spacer" Send comments to: Will Elder