"he was twice in the city of San Francisco and twice saw it burn"
'View of the last great conflagration in San Francisco on the 22d of June, 1851'
Public Domain'View of the last great conflagration in San Francisco on the 22d of June, 1851' - Credit: Library of Congress

The Californian city of San Francisco has been struck by a total of seven great fires between 1849 and 1906.

Given the time frame of the novel, it is likely McCarthy is referring to the Great Fires of May 4, 1851 and June 22, 1851. Three-fourths of the city burned to the ground during the first fire, and in both cases the strong coastal winds caused the flames to spread irresistably through the city.

Click here for the Reverend Albert Williams' eyewitness account of the Great Fire of June 22, 1851.