San Francisco suffers yet another fire

Whispers and rumors swirled through San Francisco that there would be another great fire on the anniversary of the second conflagration that had ripped through the city on June 14, 1850. The newly formed Committee of Vigilance and their recent hanging of John Jenkins coupled with a strict watch by all citizens may have had some effect and the appointed day came and went without incident. Then people began to relax. On Sunday June 22, at eleven in the morning on Pacific Street just below Powell it began. Whipped by a strong wind from the west the flames roared toward the bay.

22 June 1851 San Francisco fire

Four to five hundred buildings were destroyed with damage amounting to nearly three million dollars. City Hall, formerly the Graham House, was leveled. The newly rebuilt Jenny Lind Theater burned once again and the First Presbyterian Church was destroyed. In the last fire all the newspapers but the Alta had been lost. This time all but the Alta survived, and the home of it’s publisher, Sam Brannan, also was lost. The main business center, burned to the ground just seven weeks ago, escaped the wrath of this fire.

Map of the 22 June 1851 San Francisco fire

Seven people lost their lives, three in the flames, two shot by police for robbery, and two more beaten to death by the populace for suspected arson and stealing. And still, after so many troubles, the people of San Francisco chose to rebuild once more.



  1. What was the cause John? Are we looking at a serial arsonist? Or were the fires deliberately lit for some other reason?

    • Back in the 1850s, Jack, it would have been impossible to prove arson without an eyewitness, but many suspected that most of the fires were started by criminal gangs who used the excitement as a cover to loot homes and businesses. One of those gangs was the Sydney Ducks, criminals from England who had been imprisoned in Australia. Because of the rumors that circulated before this fire started it looks like arson even to us today. Here’s a little background for you: San Francisco, 1851, a den of thieves.

  2. Both Cripple Creek and Victor suffered fires also, but these appear to have been accidental. Cripple Creek twice and Victor once. Victor was so popular that the railroad set up a special train for interested ‘tourist’ to see the town. It started rebuilding the next day and was back in business withing twelve hours. What is it about gold, and towns that lends itself to fires? Perhaps that is a story to be told,for I’m sure a lot of ‘boom’ towns were affected.

    • Gold, whiskey, incredibly flammable buildings, gas lamps and open flames everywhere make for a lot of fires, Doris, and gold towns were usually wild and boisterous. All the things that our modern fire codes protect us from these days were in play back then.

  3. This of course does not include the ‘labor wars’ that rocked Colorado during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.