Shortly before noon on Sunday October 5, 1913, a large black mushroom shaped cloud of smoke reached skyward from the Standard Oil Company tank yard on the waterfront. A spark from a passing locomotive was blamed for starting a fire in a 250,000 gallon tank of distillate oil. As the oil burned it threw sparks skyward which rained down on several other tanks nearby. A tank holding 1,500,000 gallons of black oil ignited erupting into a towering ball of flame.
Firefighters were left to do nothing more than spray water on the other tanks to keep them cool. Firefighters were relieved at their hoses and allowed to get something to eat, quickly returning to take their positions again. Spectators gathered as the firefighters tried to keep the black oil from exploding, but the heat eventually caused a third tank, holding 250,000 gallons of gasoline, to explode with such force that it was heard in La Mesa. Steam driven, the burning oil soared into the air and rained down on adjoining lumber yards. Firemen dragged what hose lines they could spare from the Standard Oil yard and re-grouped in the lumber yards. The Fire Department sent out a General Alarm. Spectators on the end of the Standard Oil dock had to be rescued by boats as the pier caught fire. Firefighters battled the flames from Sunday through Tuesday, when crews were finally released.