Big Fire In Chinatown, Fifteen Buildings Were Completely Destroyed

posted Feb 4, 2012, 9:00 AM by Western Sonoma County Historical Society
Sebastopol Times, January 1900

The people of Sebastopol were worked up to a high pitch of excitement last Monday morning. The cause of the disturbance was a terrific blaze in Chinatown, which while it lasted, roared like a seething tempest.

About 7:15 o¹clock Willie Palmer while passing by what is known as new Chinatown, discovered clouds of smoke coming through the roof of one of the houses. He immediately applied the whip and spurs to the steed he was riding and, like Paul Revere, rode through town with hurricane speed, spreading the alarm as he passed. Someone rang the school bell and a few seconds later men, women and children rushed frantically from their homes and places of business. The race towards the scene of the conflagration was of the nature of a steeple chase, some clearing high fences with a single bound, while other feet hammered he middle of the street. Chief Palmer of the local fire department, although he made a poor start, finished with the leading sprinters and was one of the first to reach the blaze.

In less than ten minutes after the fire started it was evident that the two rows of buildings were doomed to total destruction. A strong north wind was flowing and sheets of flame fanned by the breeze, leaped high in the air. The heat was so intense that no one could approach near the burning structures. It was a difficult task to save other property from the fury of the wind and flames.

Someone suggested that the hood and ladder truck be used and a search warrant was issued by Chief Palmer. After the fire fiend had spent his fury the truck and a single ladder were found in a vacant lot.

Had there been a breeze from the east, it is safe to say that the entire town of Sebastopol would today be a mass of charred ruins.

The fire originated in the house occupied by Sang Tai. It is said that a Chinaman, while smoking opium in the upper story of the building, upset a coal oil lamp and instead of smothering the blaze with a blanket he fled from the scene in terror. Although the alarm was turned in early it was utterly impossible to subdue the flames owing to Sebastopol¹s woeful lack of fire fighting facilities. The structures were all built of redwood and they burned like tinder. About one hour after the fire started the buildings composed a smoldering heap of ruins. Fifteen Houses including the Joss house, were completely wiped out.

The buildings were occupied by Sang Tai, Wing Hop, Wai Lee, Sing Wah, Hop Wah, Han Wah, Quong Wah, Hung Chun, Hong Fat, Ling Fat, Wah Sing, Fe Kee, Chung Hi, Chung Chun and others.

The buildings belonged to Henry S. Barnes of this place and were valued at about twenty-five hundred dollars. The reconstruction of the houses is still a question of doubt.