Great Chicago Fire 1871

What was the Great Chicago Fire?

The Great Chicago Fire was a disastrous incident that took place on October 8, 1871. In the incident, a fire started at one of the buildings located in the centre of Chicago city. The fire then spread from one building to the next until a large part of the city was on fire. The fire kept burning for the next two days and during this period many important buildings in the city were destroyed

How did the fire start?

The fire started at the barn owned by the O’Leary family in the southwest part of the city. There are no historical sources that can confirm exactly what started the fire. A reporter Michael Ahern wrote that the fire was started when a cow named daisy kicked a lantern in the barn and it was from there that the fire spread.

But the reporter later confessed that he had simply made up the story. There were others who claimed other reasons. Some said that a meteor shower had caused the fire while some said that the fire started because some men were gambling and smoking in the barn and this accidentally kindled a fire.

How did the fire spread?

The Great Chicago Fire incident took place at a time when the city of Chicago was going through a very dry spell. This meant that the city had seen no rain for a long time and dry winds blew through the city. Also, most of the buildings at the time were made of wood and so they caught fire very easily. The fire started at the O’Leary barn and the dry winds quickly stoked and spread it to the other buildings. Within no time, the fire was out of control and there was simply no way to put it out.

Why didn’t anyone put it out?

Well, the fire could have been put out if efforts were made right after it began. But the Chicago fire department couldn’t reach the O’Leary barn in time. By the time they reached it, fire had already spread to other buildings in the neighbourhood and was out of control. It was simply impossible to put out the fire now that it was so widespread. So the fire continued to burn for two whole days before it started raining and that finally put it out.

Did it cause a lot of damage?

The Great Chicago Fire destroyed a very large portion of the Chicago city. It consumed a total of 17,000 buildings and destroyed an area 4 miles long and 1 mile wide. The destruction of so much property left many people homeless. An estimated 100,000 people lost their homes during the two-day fire and around 300 people died. In terms of modern estimates, the fire caused a damage of almost $4 billion dollars.

After the fire

Immediately after the Great Chicago Fire, the city started rebuilding the destroyed structures. The new buildings were built better and stronger so that they could withstand fire more easily. People from all over USA contributed money to the city of Chicago to help it rebuild. The few old buildings which survived the Great Chicago Fire came to be regarded as historical structures of great value.

Learn More about the Great Chicago Fire at Wikipedia