Same story, different chapter – The great Chicago fire

We continue our series "Same story, different chapter" starring Greater Chicago which started on the same day as the Phestigo fire on October 8, 1871. No matter how the fire started (rumor has it A cow), Greater Chicago would become one of the most devastating and famous fires in the history of the United States. So much so that few people would hear about the Phestigo fire with almost three times the loss of life.

  • The fire burned from October 8 to 10
  • Killed around 300 people
  • Almost 100,000 homeless
  • Destroys over 17,000 structures
  • Caused $ 200,000,000 in damages

  • Rapid expansion and inadequate building codes contributed to rapid construction.
  • Match-type housing in poor areas of the city.
  • Large houses in the northern regions had a water distribution system.
  • West division where the fire started lacked water system.
  • Modern but small fire department needed for Chicago's growing size
  • The alarm system has failed.
  • Dry weather and the abundance of wooden buildings, wooden streets and wooden sidewalks fueled the fire.
  • An early Sunday morning fire caused firefighters and out-of-service equipment to burn out.
  • Human error and poor communication about the location of the fire delayed response time.
  • Buildings built "fireproof" were consumed.
  • The hot marks were spread by the winds.
  • Crowded roads and burned bridges compromised the exit.

After the fire:

  • Insurance companies have not been able to fulfill their responsibilities
  • Population doubled
  • Building codes have been established
  • Insurance practices have been revised
  • Fire prevention has become a priority
  • Resilient people rebuilt their city


by John Greenleaf Whittier

The men said during vespers: "Everything is fine!"

In a wild night, the city fell;

Fallen from prayer shrines and profit margins

Before the hurricane of fire.

Over sixty steeples, the sunset was shining,

Where the dreadful sunrise was watching none.

The men shook hands and said,

"The western city is dead!"

Brave hearts that fought, in slow retreat,

Fire demons from street to street,

Turned, helpless, blindingly dazzling,

The stupid challenge of despair.

A sudden impulse delighted each thread

It signaled around this sea of ​​fire;

Quick words of joy, warm heartbeats came;

In tears of pity the flame died!

From East, West, South and North,

The messages of hope have sprung,

And, under the cutting wave,

The world, in full hand, reached to save.

Just looked old; but even more just

The new, the bleak void will fill

With houses more expensive than those that are knocked down,

Because love will lay every cornerstone.

Arise, struck city! to throw you

The ashy sack of your misfortune;

And build, as for the strain of Amphion,

To sing your walls again!

How shriveled in your hot distress

The primordial sin of selfishness!

What an instant rose, to take your share,

The angel in the human heart!

Ah! not in vain the flames that threw

Above your horrible holocaust;

Christ preached through you again

The Gospel of Humanity!

The elevator once your towers are high,

And fret the western sky with arrows,

To say that God is still with us,

And love is always miraculous!

Forest Fire Leadership Challenge – Dig a little deeper

  • What lesson (s) can you learn from the great Chicago fire?
  • What similarities do you see playing today?