The Chicago fire of 1871 was one of the most devastating fires in US history. Many people believe that the fire started in the barn of Partick and Catherine O’Leary on the southwest side of the city, and it burned for 36 hours leaving people's homes and businesses destroyed. Many lives were lost causing a huge mix of emotions of devastation and sadness. What was the cause of the fire to grow so big and spiral out of control as it did?
The main things for a fire to start and sustain itself are fuel, oxygen and heat. Luckily for Chicago, they had all three of these ingredients. Since Chicago was built on a swamp, and other materials were too expensive, Chicago's infrastructure including its sidewalks and streets were made from wood. Because Chicago had experienced a long drought in their summer year the wood became dry, as a result it ended up serving as fuel for the fire. The surrounding area was full of houses that were close together, this helped the fire spread rapidly jumping from house to house.
At the time of the fire Chicago had strong winds coming from the southwest. Due to the sudden rise in heat the winds increased quickly. This could be seen in the novel The Great Fire when it states, “the stronger winds, the ones people remembered the best, were probably caused by rising consecutive heat” (Murphy 1). This made things so much worse for Chicago. Those winds carried out burning debris, which would later fall on top of the dry wood located in other areas. Those areas would soon also catch on fire. Making things worse than they already where firefighters at the time did not have the proper equipment to fight these fires and to top it all off, they were sent to the WRONG location. This whole entire catastrophe was the cause of the fire spreading quickly and uncontrollably.
After multiple hours of burning a fire would eventually come to a stop since there is flammable left. That’s exactly what happened with the Chicago fire. Open areas in the north end of the city helped stop the fire because there was simply nothing left to burn in that area. Fire fighters ended up using explosives as a last-minute recourse to blow up abandoned buildings and homes in the area to help stop the spread. Finally, it started to rain which helped the firefighters put out the fire entirely.
The after math of fire had left people devastated, heartbroken, and sad. Over 100,000 people were left without a home or a job. 300 people were estimated dead, 100,000 homes and 17,000 buildings including businesses were all destroyed. The damage fee came out to be 200 million dollars which would be around 4 billion dollars in today's money.
In November of 1871, Chicagoans had rebuilt their city and elected a mayor who would enforce stricter building and fire rules. Architectes came together to start building and designing the first skyscrapers. This resulted in people moving to Chicago to help out with the building process. The population had grown to have 500,000 citizens and a decade later the city was back to normal with over a million people.