One year after the Great Chicago fire, the Great Boston Fire in 1872 burnt over 700 buildings and 65 acres of downtown Boston to the ground. Here's some background on the blaze and some interesting points on how the city was not prepared.
How Did It Start?
MassMoments has a great summary of how the fire began:
This great map from Damrell's Fire shows how fast and far the fire spread:
The Challenges the Firefighters Faced
Besides the slow alarm call and all the pedistrians getting in the way, the firefigthers were hampered by other factors also. Darmell's Fire does a great job of outlining these issues. Here's two that are pretty stunning:
How Boston Was Not Prepared
- Boston’s building regulations were not enforced. There was no authority to stop faulty construction practices.
- Buildings were often insured at full value or above value. Over-insurance meant owners had no incentive to build fire-safe buildings. Insurance-related arson was common.
- Flammable wooden French Mansard roofs were common on most buildings. The fire was able to spread quickly from roof to roof, and flames even leapt across the narrow streets onto other buildings. Flying embers and cinders started fires on even more roofs.
- Fire alarm boxes in Boston were locked to prevent false alarms, therefore delaying the Boston Fire Department by twenty minutes.
- Merchants were not taxed for inventory in their attics, therefore offering incentive to stuff their wood attics with flammable goods such as wool, textiles, and paper stocks.
- Fire hydrant couplings were not standardized.
- The number of fire hydrants and cisterns was insufficient for a commercial district.
- Steam engine pumpers were not able to draw enough water to reach the wooden roofs of tall downtown buildings.
- Gas supply lines connected to street lamps and used for lighting in buildings could not be shut off promptly. Gas lines exploded and fed the flames.
A PBS Special
PBS did a one hour documentary on the fire focusing on the Boston Fire Department Chief. It is named "Darmell's Fire". Here is a previe of the special.
A Good Book
"Image of America" has a book on the fire that is loaded with pictures and lots of details on the history. You can get it below on Amazon.