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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Raging Infernos

Every town or village was vulnerable to fire during the early Gold Rush years, and few escaped its ravages. Thousands of prospectors in the camps and communities scattered among the foothills, as well as residents of valley towns, lived in veritable tinderboxes. In many places their dwellings were merely tents, hastily-constructed wooden shacks, or canvas nailed over wooden frames. Merchants’ counters were wood planks atop wooden barrels, with sacks of grains or dry goods cluttered about the floor. For light, the pioneers had kerosene lamps and candles; cooking over open fires was commonplace. San Francisco suffered six devastating fires between 1849 and June 1851, conflagrations that each leveled sections of the city. Sacramento experienced several “small” fires— contained before too much damage was done—and two major fires in 1852 and 1854. The 1852 Great Fire destroyed more than 80% of the city. No fewer than five significant fires swept through Marysville between 1851 and 1856, relentlessly destroying homes, churches, and businesses each time. The first one was reportedly caused by a man who left a burning candle near a pile of clothing while he napped. Desperate citizens hung wet blankets from windows and hauled barrels of water in carts, but lost three entire blocks downtown. #Fire #CaliforniaHistory

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