Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

Michael Burgan
Illustrator:  Phil Miller , Charles Barnett III 
Nonfiction Graphic Novel  Series
For ages 7 to 9
Capstone Press, 2008   ISBN: 1429601558

Before the 1848 Gold Rush, San Francisco was just a small port with less than one thousand residents. After the Gold Rush began the settlement grew until it was a large and prosperous city. It did have its problems of course. Fires were a constant worry and since most of the buildings were made of wood, fires caused a great deal of damage when they broke out. Then there were the earthquakes. The city was located in an area where earthquakes were a reasonably common occurrence and they too caused a certain amount of damage to businesses and homes. Despite the threat of earthquakes people thought nothing of building on soft sandy landfill, a surface which is not that stable at the best of times.

On April 18th, 1906, in the early hours of the morning, a massive earthquake hit the city. The new town hall which everyone was so proud of and which had taken twenty-six years to build, collapsed, as did many other buildings. Structures that had been built on the sandy soil sank and countless people were trapped inside them. Aftershocks which hit after the main earthquake caused many more buildings to fall down. Sparking electrical lines made fires break out and escaping gas was quickly ignited by candles and lamps that had tipped over.

Firefighters discovered that many of the water pipes had been broken and they therefore had to water to put out the numerous fires which were spreading all over town. The military was brought in to maintain order and to blow up buildings in the path of the fires. It was hope that the fires would die out if they were deprived of fuel.

It took firefighters, soldiers, and other public servants, with the help and cooperation of the public, four days to defeat the fires. By April 21st time much of San Francisco had been destroyed.

In this excellent title from the “Graphic Library” series, the author not only tells the story of this famous disaster, but he also includes comments made by people who experienced the fire first hand. We get to meet a few of the people who fought to save the city and thus we get some interesting insights into what took place on those fateful days. We also are set up in the beginning of the story to understand why the earthquakes and the fires did so much damage.

Its well written text and graphic novel style format makes this title interesting and entertaining. It is especially suitable for readers who don’t like to read pages and pages of text.