April 19, 1906
San Francisco, Thursday

Dear Papa:

Yesterday morning at about 5:15 there was a terrific earthquake lasting about 28 seconds. I had no conception at the time of the damage it had done. No cars of the Syndicate line were running and as I was walking toward the Narrow Gauge noticed that almost every chimney was down. Had difficulty in reaching the city as troops would allow no one to land so went over in a launch. No wind, and the massive clouds of smoke were about five to ten above the city. Flames were leaping in the air up to probably 300-400 ft. The shock probably broke many gas pipes and mains and electric wires and soon spread over a very large area.

The Water mains were broken in many places before reaching the city so it was almost impossible to fight the fire except from the bay. The heat was something frightful and fire proof buildings would crack and spring open from the same and the fire spread and is raging beyond all hope of control. Dynamite is being used during all the fire in tremendous quantities but without any noticeable effect. The flames lash and swirl around over fifty feet away from the heat alone. After some difficulty we reached our place and found about a dozen men. The buildings were the exception as the shock had caused absolutely no damage. We just simply had to wait, as the fire was raging all around us, for our turn. The fire came down Second St. toward us and down Folsom and was stopped by Wieland’s and the Calif. Electrical Co. and then went back to Mission St. and then across Second and down Mission and over to Folsom. Powerless we had to wait for the crisis as the flames came up Folsom. The Bryan Elevator Co. stayed it for only a few minutes. We had to ran in the Tea—Warehouse and office and the only water we had was out of the pond and hand extinguishers. When opposite the heat was so intense it was impossible to look at it. Three of us were on the roof with sacks and then I had to rush down into the Basement as people had put furniture against our windows there and they went up in flames quick. After some effort we put out the fire in the window casings and got wet sacks on the windows and the heat smoldered the paper down then and the smoke was stifling and the incoming sparks were a great danger. All the windows on that side were cracked into a thousand pieces, but four were knocked in. The building across fell, and we thought we had passed the greatest danger and we were jubilant, but fire went down Second St. and left the building between Wieland’s and Calif. Elec. Co. standing, but started those on the opposite side of Folsom St. on our East. We survived that and then they went up above us on the hill and that danger passed. God, we felt that the danger then had passed us, as we were protected by burnt Wells, Fargo & Co. and the Harrison Lt. Hill. We then went to Second St. and moved all the furniture leaning against the factory and office into the street, and just as we had accomplished that a terrific wind rushed up north Second. You can imagine the force of this comparatively gentle wind when it picked up a lounge and hit Mr. Volckmann in the back. It was simply blinding with sand and ashes. We got inside the office and it was just a dim, yellow light outside. The wind increased in bound until it reached I should say without exaggeration 100 miles per hour and then it formed into a terrific cyclone of flaming boards, windows, sand, ashes and everything it could pick up and the vortex of the cyclone was on the hill back of us. It was a frightful sight.

Some of us were on the roof holding on. Flaming boards would rush around in the air in circle 300 yds. in diameter and shoot into this column of fire on the hill and disappear in the air. Sparks by the million came on the building and some burned through the roof and then the suction would actually blow out the fire after it had eaten through. Some of the asphaltum cloth was ripped right off. This tornado smashed every broken window casement sent the sparks in there as if they came from an emery wheel. Were able to stop that with wet sacks and then the sparks rained in through the smashed glass in the court. So far we were still saved and the wind had gone down a little, but was still screeching. Sparks got into the extract room through the windows by the ground and set fire to the boxes. We got everything away we could, but lacked water and it passed our control in a few minutes. We poured water through the roof but it was fruitless. Our only hope was then that the other buildings would be fire-proof. We were absolutely powerless and left the office with very sad hearts. The rooming house opposite was beginning to burn and we were not sure of how to get back. Went up Folsom to Fourth, then to Fifth by Howard, and then over to Market we went and on all sides everything was in red hot ruins. I can’t tell you how much I admired Mr. Volkmann’s fortitude! Early this morning we started again for the office and had to go round by the Pacific Warehouse north of Wellman, Pock, which is also in the destroyed district. Going up Howard we saw our chimney still standing, but a half block further we could see the shattered outlines of our walls. Nothing escaped and the city looks frightful. Our walls all have to come down. The vault looks intact although the iron door in front is badly warped and the safe is lying on the ground face down.

As far as we could see everything is burned and partially razed. In many places the ground is sunken. By Folgers, who is about the only one standing and not damaged by fire, the street dropped two feet. Coming over on the ferry we could see the flames through the smoke eating up Mark Hopkins’ Institute. We all feel as well as Mr. Volkmann that his house will also go up with the others. There were over 100,000 people on the streets last night lugging trunks and everything they were able to save. There is both a water and food famine in the city and the people are rapidly immigrating to Oakland and the country.

Fortunately none of us were injured. Am sending you samples of all the labels and am going over to Mr. Sheperd now to get those he has obtained. The rest I’ll wire Mr. Heatly in Portland Or.

With love to all, my dear Papa,