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The Great Chicago Fire burned from Sunday, 8 October to Tuesday, 10 October, 1871. Four square miles of Chicago, Illinois were destroyed; 125 bodies were recovered, and final estimates place the number of fatalities at between 200 and 300.


Origins and Spread of the Blaze


The fire started around 9 PM on Sunday, 8 October, 1871, in or near a small shed on the alley behind 137 Dekoven Street. The fire spread rapidly, due to the city’s overuse of wood as a building material. Strong winds from the southwest carried the blaze toward the heart of the city.


Chicago’s fire department received the first alarm at about 9:40 PM, when an alarm was pulled at a pharmacy. The fire fed on closely packed wooden buildings, shipyards, the city’s elevated sidewalks and roads, which were made of wood planks, and the coal and lumber yards along the river. As the fire grew, it generated extremely powerful winds and heat, that ignited the rooftops of surrounding buildings.


Attempts to stop the fire were unsuccessful, and the city’s firefighters were forced to give up when the fire destroyed the city’s waterworks. The mayor placed the city under martial law, but, as there were no civil disturbances, martial law was lifted a few days later. The fire burned itself out, aided by a light rain that began falling on Monday night.




In the aftermath of the fire, it was determined that an area about four miles (6 km) long and about ¾ (1 km) wide had been destroyed. More than 73 miles (120 km) of roads, 120 miles (190 km) of sidewalk, 2,000 lampposts, and 17,500 buildings were lost, for a total valuation of property damage at $222 million. 90,000 of the city’s 300,000 inhabitants were left homeless. 125 bodies were recovered, and fatalities are estimated to be between 200 and 300 people. While the Great Chicago Fire is one of the least deadly of the city’s disasters, it is the most well-known, due to the magnitude of the destruction.





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