Oct. 21, 1912
The greatest calamity in the history of the Petaluma Fire Department cast the city into gloom on Sunday and the people were thrown into a panic over the injury of a score of prominent citizens, the narrow escape of scores more and the pitiful scenes following the awful occurrence which darkened the city on the quiet Sabbath.
Keyed to a high tension over the scarcity of water, the people have for days feared the sound of the fire bell and when at 9:15 on Sunday morning the alarm was sounded from Box 13 on north Main Street, there was a rush for the vicinity. Those who had not reached the Ford garage from which place the alarm was sent for a burning auto were appalled by the sight of a vast sheet of flame which shot high in the heavens and an instant later a score of shrieking, moaning human torches were dashing aimlessly about while their more fortunate townspeople endeavored to overtake them and tear the burning clothing from their blackened, blistered bodies.
It was over in a second but in that brief period frightful havoc had been wrought as the filled gasoline tank blew out with a roar that shook the city. Burning gasoline not only covered the faces and clothing of the unfortunate victims but was forced through the clothing so that the undergarments were charred. Every victim’s features were blackened until they resembled Negroes. … When the auto with Morris Hickey reached the hospital and he was taken out, a piece of skin about five inches square fell from his body to the ground. With Joe Steiger, the same thing happened and the awful relics have been saved by friends.
It is probable that a man in the garage looking at cars dropped a lighted cigar, as the charred stump was found at the spot. As usual it is a case of “I told you so.” Chief Adams, after his return from the convention of fire chiefs, laid particular stress upon the necessity of rigid laws preventing smoking in garages and proper care in the handling of gasoline.
The black horse which draws the City Hall hose wagon fell twice responding to the alarm. He was not injured but at the hospital Mott, the badly injured driver, said between his groans he knew something would happen because Black Bart had never fallen before.