Three of History's Most Famous Fires

Throughout history, fire has been involved in some of mankind's most important moments, and it still continues to shock, surprise and teach us lessons about the way that we build our homes, businesses and many other structures.

Throughout history, fire has been involved in some of mankind's most important moments, and it still continues to shock, surprise and teach us lessons about the way that we build our homes, businesses and many other structures. It is fire that has helped develop the way we create and design our buildings, in most cases by burning the lesser designs down to the ground. Sometimes man only learns from the mistakes it has made before, and in the case of fire, this is definitely true.

At some point in history, the majority of the major cities in the world have been ravaged by far, as mankind made its progression from stone buildings to wood. Giant infernos have engulfed the likes of London, Chicago and Washington through time, sometimes through our era defining design flaws, other times through wars, where fire would be used to cause maximum damage to the homes and buildings of the enemies.

The fire brigades and departments that we now take for granted in our modern societies did not exist in their current incarnation until fairly recently, so the strategy for attacking a fire centuries ago often led to panic and a civilian-led attempt to stop the fire spreading, which in some cases failed spectacularly, leading to a city being burned to the ground. Even in modern London, the Fire Brigade are still trying to ensure that more is done to prevent fires. This post on security site reports that the LFB are trying to reduce fire deaths by 30% over three years. In these three cases, there was no such plan in place:

The Royal Library of Alexandria

Nobody is certain of the exact period in history that the Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt was destroyed, but they certainly know about the consequences. The library was known as being the largest and most significant in the ancient world at the time, and scholars have predicted that the Dark Ages may not have been so dark had so much knowledge and history not been destroyed in the fire.

The culprits of the destruction of the library have been narrowed down to a few suspects, but the main suspect is Julius Caesar, who was said to have destroyed the library by accident in 48BC, when he burned down his own ships as a way to frustrate his enemies, who were trying to cut off Caesar's communication methods by sea.

Other stories include various wars across the first century BC, including the attack of Aurelian in 270 - 275 AD, ; the decree of Coptic Pope Theophilus in AD 391; and the Muslim conquest in 642 AD or thereafter. There are various tales of the contents of the library surviving and being taken to hidden locations in order to be preserved. With the passing of time, there is no way to confirm or deny the history, but it makes for a great story. Who knows, maybe some of these works survived, and are still yet to be found?

The Great Fire of London

Every British child who has ever attended school has been taught about the Great Fire of London that swept through the streets and houses of England's capital city between 2-5 September 1666. The paintings, writings and documentation of the event are ingrained into the memory of the country, and for good reason: It is an extremely important part of the history of the country, for two reasons.

First of all, the Great Fire of London highlighted that the city was very poorly conceived and built. The houses and buildings were incredibly close together and built from wood, that enabled the fire to spread quickly and destroy over 13,000 homes, leaving over 70,000 people homeless on the streets of London. Incredibly, only six deaths were recorded over the period, but as non-lethal as the fire may have been, it was catastrophic for England, which had to rebuild its capital once again.

The second reason for the great fires importance in British history is that the fire all but eradicated the Great Plague that had savaged the city the year previously. London was reduced to ashes, but like a phoenix from the flames, it rose again, with designers and constructors learning from their mistakes and building a better city from the ruins.

Incredibly, the rumours of the day point to a bakery that forgot to put their ovens out. Regardless of who was to blame, it is incredible that anything could have led to such a catastrophic event.

The Chicago Fire

The fire that swept through Chicago for two days during October in 1871 is stepped in American folklore. It is still regarded as one of the biggest disasters in US history - certainly in the 19th century - and the flag of Chicago commemorates the fire with the second star that features on it.

Over 3.3 square miles were destroyed by the blaze, and it is a testament to the strength of the city that it was able to rebuild and become the vibrant, important city it is today. 300 people sadly lost their lives in the fire, and a further 100,000 were made homeless by the chaos that reigned over those fateful 48 hours or so.

The event that led to the fire has also become part of folklore. The fire is known to have started in a small barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O'Leary. A Chicago reporter stated at the time that the fire was started when a cow kicked over a lantern, but he later admitted that this was a writer's invention to make the story a little more exciting. Rumours persisted over the true origins of the event for years, and still no one knows for sure how it really began. It was probably not an exciting story, and certainly not as memorable as the fire itself.

As homes, businesses and churches fell to the fire, the rain came and aided the fire department in their bid to douse the flames. Eventually the fire was extinguished, as Chicago natives flooded to Lake Michigan to escape the flames. The event was over, but it had left its mark on the people of the city and of America as a nation.

Jonathan Nolan, the writer of The Dark Knight Rises, has apparently been working on a script for a movie version of the Chicago Fire since around 2005. As a Chicago native, he is an example of somebody who has grown up around the story and it has had a major influence on him.


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