5 of History’s Most Famous Fires 

Posted in Commercial Fire Fire Alarms Fire Extinguishers Fire Risk Assessment Fire Safety Fire Safety Equipment Fire Safety Training on 28 February 2020

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Fires are never good news, and some have been so devastating they’ve made it into the history books. While the world’s most famous fires have given us valuable, if tragic, lessons on how to avoid them in future, they are also a stark reminder that we should never take the fire safety of our buildings for granted, and that we should always be striving to improve measures in our homes and businesses. 

In this article, we’ll examine the tragic events of five of the most famous fires in history. 

The Great Fire of London (England, 1666)

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At the time of this world-famous event, London was no stranger to fires, no thanks to its wooden construction and other elements of unsatisfactory design. Despite lasting for four days and decimating thousands of homes, the registered death toll only reached six people. However, it’s thought that this may be higher, as classism of the time meant the deaths of lower-class people were not recorded. The precise cause was unknown, but forgetfulness could have been the culprit, namely that of a bakery maid who may have forgotten to douse the fires out at the end of the day. An unexpected benefit came from the fire – it actually sterilised the city, and is thought to have prevented future plague outbreaks. Picture: source & license.

The Great Kanto Earthquake (Japan, 1923) 

While not strictly a fire event, when the main Japanese island of Honshu was struck by an enormous earthquake, many people were cooking lunch over open fires which led to a series of truly devastating fires, firestorms and fire tornados. Tens of thousands were incinerated by the uncontrollable flames, and combined with the initial quake deaths, the total death toll reached over 140,000 people. 

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (USA, 1906) 

Like the Kanto Earthquake, the quake that struck San Francisco at the turn of last century also caused fires to ravage the city. In fact, it’s thought that around 90% of the total damage was caused by the resulting fires as opposed to the initial quake. The city was almost utterly destroyed, and over three thousand people lost their lives – making it one of the USA’s worst natural disasters. 

The Great Fire of Rome (Roman Empire, 64 AD) 


Rome wasn’t built in a day – but over two thirds of it was destroyed over nine days. The Great Fire of Rome was thought to have begun in shops where flammable items were stocked, though some conspiracy theories suggest that Emperor Nero himself ordered it to be started. The flames were exacerbated by windy conditions and the widespread use of timber, along with looters and arsonists purposefully worsening the fire. Picture: source & license.

The Great Chicago Fire (USA, 1871) 

Claiming 300 lives and leaving 100,000 homeless, this fire devastated Chicago and was exacerbated by windy and drought conditions. The origin is unconfirmed, despite a popular tale of it being started in a barn by a cow knocking over a lantern. Once again, the widespread use of wood in city structures caused the fire to spread easily – even managing to leap across the river to the other side of the city. Simultaneous fires were also burning in nearby states, due to the same hot weather, which included the Peshtigo Fire and the Great Michigan Fire. Once the fire was over, the Chicago government began to improve building codes and rebuilt with this in mind. 

So, what can we learn? 

Thankfully, since the time of these fires, safety measures have improved a great deal across the world. Laws concerning fire exits, extinguishers, alarms, building materials, and evacuation procedures have been introduced as a result of these large, and many smaller, disastrous fire events. With these laws now in place across many countries, it’s our duty to make sure we adhere to them at all costs – doing so will reduce the severity of future fires and save many lives. 

Here at Fire Action, we keep your business safe and secure 24/7. We offer all the products and services you need to keep your premises safe, including fire extinguishers, alarms, fire risk assessments and the provision of fire safety training.

Find out how we can help your business by getting in touch with our experts today – we serve locations across South East England. 

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