Editor Charles King decided to seek out the mayor. As he wandered the streets, amid flames, destroyed buildings, abandoned fire equipment, and looters helping themselves to piles of goods saved from ruin, King was shocked by the level of destruction. He located Mayor Lawrence with several civic leaders at what is today Exchange Place. King urged the mayor to use his power to blow up private property to curb the further spread of the fire. After much hesitation, the mayor and aldermen decided that it was the right course of action. King and Colonel Robert Temple, an off-duty army officer, agreed to search for gunpowder. King successfully secured explosives from the commodore of the Navy Yard., who ordered a few sailors to deliver it by barge from Red Hook, Brooklyn to Manhattan. Colonel Temple also retrieved some gunpowder from Governor's Island and brought it back to Manhattan himself in a tiny rowboat.
The gunpowder barge arrived at the foot of Wall Street. Charles King and the mayor arrived soon after. Some time between 2 and 3 A.M., the Mayor called for a former chief general of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Captain James Swift to identify buildings that could be demolished to halt the spread of the fire and to supervise the project. A grocery store at 48 Exchange Place, near the intersection of Exchange and Broad Street, was chosen. The officials hoped that by destroying this building they might prevent the fire from jumping Broad Street and moving westward and northward, which would threaten the residential neighborhoods near the financial district. At about 5 A.M., the powder kegs had been laid and the fuse was ready to be lit. The mayor, still uneasy with his decision, attempted to get the fire chief Gulick to set off the explosion. Gulick refused, so James Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton's son, lit the fuse. As hoped, the building exploded, but it, unfortunately, set the building next to it, 50 Exchange Place, on fire. The building at 52 Exchange Place was also filled with explosives to help stem the fire. By the end of the night, several more buildings had been intentionally set ablaze, finally deprving the fire of fuel.