The Top Nine Most Famous Fires In History

Fire damage has been the biggest fear ever since mankind first began building structures out of wood.

In fact, so common have these infernos been throughout history that nearly every major city in the world has been largely burnt to the ground at one time or another, and like a damaged anthill, rebuilt each time. And each time there has been a huge demand for fire restoration and expert cleaning solutions like those provided by ‘The Stain Eaters‘.Below is our ‘Top 9’ list of the most destructive, most famous, or most historically significant non-war related infernos in history.

London 1212 Fire

London Fire – 1212

1. Known also as The Great Fire of Southwark, this inferno left 3000 people dead, many of whom died when they were trapped on the engulfed London Bridge. (Yes, there really was a London Bridge, but this one was made of highly flammable wood waterproofed with even more flammable tar.) While exact figures on the number of buildings destroyed may never be known, the fire left about a third of the old city in ruins.

London Fire of 1666

London Fire of 1666

2. Despite only 6 people losing their lives, this inferno is England’s most famous fire. It is remembered because it burned down many of the filthy slums associated with the Great Plague that had swept through the city the previous summer, the fire effectively cleaning the city and making it a fresh canvas upon which to rebuild. In this sense then, the fire did London a favour, although it probably didn’t appear that way to the displaced citizens of the city at the time.

Rome Fire of 64 AD

Rome Fire of 64 AD

3. While it is true flames gutted the heart of the capital of the Roman Empire, there is no evidence that the Emperor Nero fiddled while it burned. (Partially this is due to the fact that the fiddle had not been invented yet.) There was also a rumor that persists to this day that Nero had the city put to the torch as part of a plan to clear out choice pieces of real estate upon which he would later build his new palace, but this too, like so much about the hated emperor, is most likely just a bit of propaganda offered by his political opponents after his death. What is known it that, at least according to the Roman historian Tacitus, it spread quickly and burned for five and a half days, leaving ten of the fourteen districts of Rome either completely destroyed or seriously damaged.

Chicago Fire of 1871

Chicago Fire of 1871

4. Probably few infernos have been as famous as the one that ravaged much of Chicago in October, 1871, leaving more that 17,000 structures burned and 90,000 people homeless. Fortunately, it spread slowly enough that fewer than 300 died in the flames, but that’s of little consolation to those who were forced to face a cold winter without shelter as a result. Like the London fire of 1666, the fire paved the way for a new and improved Chicago to rise from the ashes with firefighting reforms that would one day make Chicago’s fire department one of the most renowned in the world.

San Francisco Fire of 1906

San Francisco Fire of 1906

5. This fire burned 25,000 buildings over 490 city blocks and left some 3,000 dead and was both man-made and natural; natural in that the fire was a by-product of a massive earthquake that hit the city and man-made as many of the destroyed structures were the result of clumsy efforts by untrained and poorly led firefighters to dynamite largely intact buildings in an attempt to create firebreaks. (Some estimate this may have accounted for as many as 50% of the buildings that were destroyed that would have otherwise survived.) Of course, the fact that the earthquake—one of the largest in American history—destroyed the water mains didn’t help.

Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire of 1871

Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire of 1871

6. While many people have heard of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, few people are aware that a second fire was taking place at the same time just a few hundred miles away in Wisconsin. Largely due to the remoteness of the area and the largely rural population, the exact death toll will never be known but some estimates put the number as high as 2,500. Hardest hit was the little town of Peshtigo, most of whose population of 1,700 died in the flames with many of the survivors escaping the flames by jumping into the Peshtigo River. Surviving witnesses reported that the firestorm generated a tornado that threw rail cars hundreds of feet and flung entire houses into the air.

Texas-City-Texas-1947

Texas City Fire of 1947

7. This blaze was ignited by an explosion on a freighter carrying 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and remains to this day the largest industrial explosion in history. So massive was the blast that resulted from the explosion that it leveled over 1000 buildings and left nearly 600 people dead or missing (including the entire Texas City volunteer fire department). It also started a chain reaction among the various refineries and chemical plants along the dockyard that added to the carnage and left the entire dockyard and much of the surrounding city gutted. The shockwave of the blast was felt 250 miles away in New Orleans while windows forty miles away in Houston were shattered. It even knocked a sightseeing airplane out of the sky and hurled one of the ship’s anchors about a mile through the air.

Halifax-Nova-Scotia Fire of 1917

Halifax-Nova-Scotia Fire of 1917

8. Most people have never heard of this event largely because it occurred during wartime and so was largely kept out of the press by wartime censors, but Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia was the scene of the world’s largest man-made accidental fire in history killing over 2000 people and injuring another 9000. It all began when the cargo ship Mont-Blanc, loaded to the gills with ammunition bound for the war in Europe, collided with a Norwegian freighter in the narrow confines of Halifax harbour and caught fire. Before the flames could be brought under control, they ignited the highly volatile ammunition, resulting in an explosion that was so powerful (estimates are that it blew with a force of three kilotons of TNT) it destroyed the town and even caused a tsunami in the harbour with a pressure wave of air that snapped trees, bent iron rails, demolished buildings, grounded vessels, and carried fragments of the Mont-Blanc for miles in every direction.

Fire in Tokyo, Japan - 1923

Fire in Tokyo, Japan – 1923

9. Much like San Francisco seventeen years earlier, the city of Tokyo was both leveled by a massive earthquake and ravaged by a fire that swept through the rubble afterwards, resulting in a staggering death toll that some estimates place as high as 142,000 (with the single greatest loss of life occurring when approximately 38,000 people packed into an open space in downtown Tokyo were incinerated by a firestorm-induced fire whirl). Further, the quake created a tsunami which added to the chaos, resulting in the destruction of 570,000 homes and leaving a staggering 1.9 million homeless. The city was entirely rebuilt just in time to be incinerated again in World War II by American B-29 bombers.

Fire damage affected your property?

Contact the industry-leading experts in fire damage restoration and fire damage cleaning today by clicking the image below:Contact Us Today Fire Damage