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San Francisco, Cal. May 14th 1906.


Dear Sir:–

In reply to your request under date of the 11th Inst. for full detail as to matters happening under my observation the morning of the "Earthquake", I beg to say:

On said morning, with relay Oper. Chas. Daley, I came on watch at 12, M. A large fire was in progress at the time, (a cannery burning), in the vicinity of Bay and Mason Sts., for which I tapped out three alarms;–the last about 3 A.M. Nothing further of note occurred until, shortly before sunrise, and as I was standing at an east window of the Fire Alarm office [at 15 Brenham Place] looking toward the Hall of Justice, the earthquake began. I went at once to the clock to note the time and duration of the shock. The shock began at 5:13 plus 10 Secs. A. M., and I watched its duration at the clock for 19 seconds, when it became so severe, and there seemed such danger of the walls and ceilings of the building falling, that I ran to underneath the frame of one of the front windows as a place of greater safety; – the relay Oper. having meanwhile taken refuge in the doorway between the operating room and the battery room. The vibrations still continued for some seconds as I remained at the window, and I saw meanwhile the southeast wall of the tower of the Hall of Justice fall; also part of the walls of a brick building near the corner of Washington street and Brenham Place. Finally the shock ceased.

While yet the vibrations continued I had noted, by the running of the Registers on fire box signal circuits, that the lines on those circuits were open. Within a very few seconds after the shock ended I saw the smoke of an apparently large fire begin to rise from what I judged to be the vicinity of Market and Beale St.; (box 267). I at once went to key to strike out said box, (meanwhile calling to Relay Opr. to set up 267 on Repeater). No alarm came in for this fire, and be it noted that no alarms whatsoever came into the office after the commencement of the earthquake.

Attempting to tap out as said, I at once found striker battery open. I rushed to battery room, saw battery jar broken; disconnected it and closed circuit; rushed back to key, found that I then had current on striker battery, but found the lines all open, and that I could not send signal out. Went then at once to the Tangent Galvanometer and tested out all of my lines, and found them all open.

The custom has been to maintain during the night watches, a fire in an open brick fire place in the Fire Alarm office, and such fire was burning when shock came. The shock broke the chimney containing this fire place, and threw the fire out into the office. About the time I found my lines gone I tried to draw water from the faucets in the office to put out this fire, but found water gone. Water however flooded into the operating room in large quantities, (from the broken battery jars in the battery room as it later proved.), and with this the fires were extinguished in the office.

Within the next few minutes after noting the fire at Market and Beale Sts. as said, I counted five additional fires starting, at different points in view from the front windows of the office. One seemingly at California and Battery Sts.; one about Sacramento and Battery; another about Bush and Market, and the others in places which I did not so closely locate.

About fifteen minutes after shock ceased, Battalion Chief McClusky called me up over a Police Box 'Phone, and asked me to send engines to Gas Works, as they had blown up. I told him of conditions, and that I could count some six fires toward the water front, and, giving him the general location of said fires, suggested that he get engines down to them if he could. He said all right, and within a short time I saw an engine coming, cutting its way through fallen wires and debris.

An incident concurrent with the happenings above described was the suddenness with which Portsmouth Square, in front of the office, filled with Chinese from the adjacent Chinatown Blocks. It seemed no more than several minutes after the shock before the Square was literally packed with hundreds of Chinese, of all ages, sexes, and conditions of apparel, jabbering and gesticulating in excited terror.

The Relay Operator and myself stayed with the office, seeking as far as we could to get matters in order, and within a very short time you yourself came to the office and personally directed and assisted in such work;– ordering among other things that men go at once to the electrical supply houses, and by any means possible procure the material and equipment needed to put the Fire Alarm office and system it working condition. It may be noted that this order was carried out, and the material etc. procured, but with the spread of the fire, and the eventual destruction of the office itself, there was no opportunity to make use of it.

About 6:15 o'clock a second quite severe shock of earthquake occurred. It shook down some brick and loose articles in the Fire Alarm office, but did not seem to me to add to the damage already done in any material degree. My recollection is that you were present at the office when this said second shock came.

I remained with the office until the end of my watch, (8:00 A. M.,) and then, being in due course relieved by the next watch, went off duty, and started for my home. As I thus left the office, the fire had gained great headway, and was burning over a large area adjacent to the water front, and up toward California St. and both sides of Market Street.

Very respectfully,

J. C. Kelly
Opr. Fire Alarm Office.

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