When a massive earthquake struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906, the city was rocked by a 42-second blast, followed by aftershocks. Although the earthquake was strong, it is estimated that 90 percent of the damage to the city was caused by 30 massive fires that erupted from ruptured gas lines moments after the initial quake. Unfortunately along with broken gas lines were broken water mains, which meant firefighters were dealing with a serious shortage of water to combat the burning city.
Ultimately, 80 percent of the city was destroyed and more than 3,000 people lost their lives. But among the tragic stories there is one especially heartwarming tale: the legend of the Golden Hydrant.
As fires raged throughout the city, the Mission was in serious peril. All the fire hydrants were running dry and firefighters, along with the horse-drawn engines they used, were exhausted. Desperate residents came together at what is now Dolores Park to check the last single fire hydrant left in their neighborhood for water. Miraculously, the hydrant at the top of the park (at Church and 20th streets) was still functioning, and hundreds of people pulled fire engines up the Dolores hill to access this last fire hydrant when the engines' horses couldn't make it. After a seven-hour battle against the blaze, the people of the Mission and a few firefighters saved the neighborhood from total destruction.
In honor of their epic fight, the fire hydrant was painted gold. Every year on the anniversary of the earthquake, the hydrant receives a fresh coat of paint from the Fire Chief and local residents at 5:12 a.m. (the exact time of earthquake hit).
A painting ceremony.
This article was originally published by 7x7 in 2014.