The Great Fires of San Francisco

Constance & George "Firebug" Leech arrived in San Francisco in the Spring of 1849 but they were unable to leave their past behind.  The Shades Hotel, where they were registered burnt to the ground in 1849.

In June, Leech decided to head to the Sandwich Isles on a business trip but the ship he was to ride caught fire.  This started a series of fantastic fires, each as awful as its predecessors, destroying large sections of San Francisco.

The fires continued in rapid succession in December, May, June and September.  The City was convinced that they were incendiary in nature but could never find a suspect.

San Francisco even formed a watch to prevent other fires from being started.  The costs of goods rose dramatically, especially rents.

Whether this benefited the small hotel the Leechs' operated one can only guess.  It was at best a break even proposition.  The hotel itself had burnt down in one of the fires, but suspicion still hung over Leech's head.  He often pleaded his innocence but the town found him increasingly difficult to believe.  At this time is was coming to light that most the politicians in San Francisco government were felons from Botany Bay and Sing Sing and the citizens were hard pressed to trust anyone.

In the September 17, 1850 blaze, Leech was once again injured.  Desperately packing some valuables from their burning hotel, the floor gave out, dropping him into the worst of the fire.   Miraculously, rescuers plucked him out and rush him to a hospital with serious injuries.

A few weeks later, on Halloween, the hospital burnt down.  Leech managed to escape further injury this time.

The fires continued in December and there was nothing until May when another blaze broke out.   The fire in June was another doozy.  Wind egged it on into every direction.  This last destructive fire proved to be too much for the couple.  The growing ire of the populace and the talk of forming of a Vigilance Committee, encouraged them to seek Greener pastures which they did in Chicago.

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Created: May 9, 2001
Last modified: September 12, 2006