In 1974, San Francisco experienced its worst disaster since the 1906 earthquake when an electrical short circuit in a storage room on the eighty-first floor of the just-opened Duncan Tower office/residential building sparked a fire which quickly spread to the building's top floors and killed nearly two hundred people before it was finally brought under control by releasing hundreds of gallons of water from two storage tanks near the tower roof.
En Fuego by Chris OakleyIn the aftermath of the disaster a city fire marshal grimly warned that "someday they'll kill 10,000 people in one of these firetraps". In an effort to avert that nightmare scenario a host of stricter fire safety regulations were passed at the state and city levels throughout America in the weeks and months immediately after the Duncan Tower blaze; an improved national fire safety code would be enacted by Congress in June of 1976.
The tower's owner and namesake, corporate titan James Duncan, subsequently established a memorial fund to compensate the survivors of the fire as well as relatives and spouses of those killed in the tragedy. He also became active in a nationwide crusade to improve all aspects of building safety, testifying at hundreds of hearings on the subject before his death in 1982.