The last survivor of the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 has died, a relative confirmed Monday. William A. "Bill" Del Monte died at a retirement home in nearby Marin County on Monday. He was 11 days shy of his 110th birthday. His niece, Janette Barroca of San Francisco, says he died of natural causes and had been doing "great for 109 years old." Del Monte was just 3 months old when the quake struck, forcing his family into the streets to escape in a horse-drawn buckboard with fire burning on both sides, Barroca says. She tells the San Francisco Chronicle that he worked as a stock trader, losing a $1 million fortune in the 1929 crash, and kept it up until last year.
The earthquake and fires killed more than 1,000 people. On the April 18 anniversary, survivors used to gather at Lotta's Fountain in downtown San Francisco before dawn. In 2010, Del Monte was the only survivor who made it there. "The common thread I would draw with all of these survivors is they had a unique, dry, wry sense of humor, as anyone would have at being so rudely tossed out of bed at 5:11 in the morning," says organizer Lee Houskeeper. "But none could compare to Bill. He had absolutely the sharpest mind of anybody I've ever known. A sharp mind, a sharp sense of humor, and he was a complete flirt. My guess is there are a lot of heartbroken nurses out there today." (Ruth Newman, a survivor old enough to remember the quake, died in September.)