105 Year Anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake & Fire

A few weeks ago, San Franciscans may have seemed a little more solemn as they remembered the victims of the 1906 earthquake and fire.  It is said to have been more destructive than the Chicago fire of 1871 and the London fire of 1966.  Fortunately, the city and its citizens have taken countless measures to ensure that damage and death do not occur on that scale again.

Below you will find some of the facts of that fatal day in 1906:
  • It occurred at 5:12 a.m.  
  • The first tremor lasted 40 seconds with a ten second rest followed by a very strong 25 second shake.  
  • It has been estimated as a 7.9 on the scale of 10 Richter scale.
  • It was almost 30 times more powerful than the 6.8 quake in 1989.  This was the quake that caused a section of the Bay Bridge to go down, and did fatal damage to highway 101 and structures in the Marina District.
  • It came from the San Andreas Fault, which was just discovered by Andrew Lawson in 1893.  It runs under and is named after San Andreas Lake.  It does not lie directly under San Francisco.  Instead, it goes through Daly City, out into the ocean, and back to land at Reyes Point.  
  • The epicenter was offshore, a few miles South of Golden Gate.
  • It created quite a bit of destruction along a 200 mile stretch from Monterey Bay to Fort Bragg, but it did little damage to Oakland and Berkeley.  They have their own fault line to worry about on that side of the bay.
  • In S.F. cemeteries, hundreds of tombstones were knocked over, all towards the east.
  • The ground in San Francisco went through a series of waves as high as two or three feet.
  • Most of the damage did not come from the earthquake, but the uncontrollable fire that spread through the city during the aftermath. 
San Francisco will never know this level of destruction again because of an earthquake.  City officials have instituted a series of earthquake proof and fire prevention building codes that will really pay off if an earthquake of that magnitude hits the city again.  All you have to do is look at the difference between the 2010 Chile earthquake (8.8) and the 2010 Haiti earthquake (7.0) to see how good planning and technology can save lives and structures.  Chile used many of the earthquake proof procedures developed in California, and there was a lot less destruction and loss of life.

In 1906, San Francisco was caught unaware and with little planning in place, but all of that has changed now.  If a quake this size does occur again, there will be a certain amount of death and destruction, but nothing near the 1906 carnage.  All San Franciscans pray it won't happen, but if so, they all have earthquake kits and several plans to help them survive and rebuild this great city by the sea.



Source:  Historic San Francisco:  A Concise History and Guide, by Rand Richards