Great fires plagued America's cities during the 19th century, such as the well-known fire in Chicago in 1871. Most Bostonians today are not aware that a large swath of Boston's commerical district was destroyed in a single fire just one year after Chicago. There is a map below that shows how the fire spread north from Summer Street and raged on for 15 hours destroying 770 mostly commercial buildings in its path.
Boston's Great Fire started in the basement of a 5-story warehouse building at the corner of Kingston Street and Summer Street on Saturday November 9, 1872 just after 7PM. No one was in the building when the fire began but early witnesses outside the building testisfied that the fire was first spotted in the basement windows. The exact cause of what started the fire was never determined but the common consensus is that coal spark from a steam boiler that powered an elevator in the building may have ignited dry materials stored near the boiler. Whatever started the fire became irrelevent as the blaze quickly spread from building to building, rooftop to rooftop, engulfing entire blocks of buildings that were commonly considered to be fire-proof.
More to read on:
"At 1924 HRS on Nov. 9, 1872, a fire broke out in the basement of a commercial warehouse. Although the incident occurred 138 years ago, the Great Boston Fire, as it later became known, is still Boston’s largest urban fire to date, and remains one of the most costly fire-related property losses in U.S. history.
By the time firefighters gained control of the fire, 12 hours after it started, 65 acres of Boston’s downtown area were destroyed; 776 buildings, as well as a large portion of the financial district, were leveled. Several people, including firefighters, perished in the fire, which ultimately cost a total of $73.5 million in damages. (Note: There is conflicting information about how many firefighters perished in this fire. Some sources say two firefighters died, while others say as many as 12 firefighters died.)"
The following of this interesting story from fireman point of view you can find here: http://www.firefighternation.com/profiles/blogs/urban-disaster-recalling-the.
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