The Great Fires of San Francisco
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.