Friday, July 11, 2014

Great Fires of History

The loss of life and property in the willful destruction by fire and sword of the principal cities of ancient history--Nineveh, Babylon, Persepolis, Carthage, Palmyra, and many others--is largely a matter of conjecture. The following is a memorandum of the chief conflagrations of the current era:

In 64, A. D., during the reign of Nero, a terrible fire raged in Rome for eight days, destroying ten of the fourteen wards. The loss of life and destruction of property is not known.

In 70 A. D., Jerusalem was taken by the Romans and a large part of it given to the torch, entailing an enormous destruction of life and property.

In 1106 Venice, then a city of immense opulence, was almost, wholly consumed by a fire, originating in accident or incendiarism.

In 1212 the greater part of London was burned.

In 1606 what is known as the Great Fire of London raged in the city from September 2 to 6, consuming 13,200 houses, with St. Paul's Church, 86 parish churches, 6 chapels, the Guild Hall, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House, 52 companies halls, many hospitals, libraries and other public edifices. The total destruction of property was estimated at $53,652,500. Six lives were lost, and 436 acres burnt over.

In 1679 a fire in Boston burned all the warehouses, eighty dwellings, and vessels in the dock-yards; loss estimated at $1,000,000.

In 1700 a large part of Edinburgh was burned; loss unknown. In 1728 Copenhagen was nearly destroyed; 1,650 houses burned.

In 1736 a fire in St. Petersburg burned 2,000 houses.

In 1729 a fire in Constantinople destroyed 12,000 houses, and 7,000 people perished. The same city suffered a conflagration in 1745, lasting five days; and in 1750 a series of three appalling fires: one in January, consuming 10,000 houses; another in April destroying property to the value of $5,000,000, according to one historian, and according to another, $15,000,000; and in the latter part of the year another, sweeping fully 10,000 houses more out of existence. It seemed as if Constantinople was doomed to utter annihilation.

In 1751 a fire in Stockholm destroyed 1,000 houses and another fire in the same city in 1759 burned 250 houses with a loss of $2,420,000.

In 1752 a fire in Moscow swept away 18,000 houses, involving an immense loss.

In 1758 Christiania suffered a loss of $1,250,000 by conflagration. In 1760 the Portsmouth (England) dock yards were burned, with a loss of $2,000,000.

In 1764 a fire in Konigsburg, Prussia, consumed the public buildings, with a loss of $3,000,000; and in 1769 the city was almost totally destroyed.

In 1763 a fire in Smyrna destroyed 2,600 houses, with a loss of $1,000,000; in 1772 a fire in the same city carried off 3,000 dwellings and 3,000 to 4,000 shops, entailing a loss of $20,000,000; and in 1796 there were 4,000 shops, mosques, magazines, etc., burned.

In 1776, six days after the British seized the city, a fire swept off all the west side of New York city, from Broadway to the river.

In 1771 a fire in Constantinople burned 2,500 houses; another in 1778 burned 2,000 houses; in 1782 there were 600 houses burned in February, 7,000 in June, and on August 12 during a conflagration that lasted three days, 10,000 houses, 50 mosques, and 100 corn-mills, with a loss of 100 lives. Two years later a fire, on March 13, destroyed two-thirds of Pera, the loveliest suburb of Constantinople, and on August 5 a fire in the main city, lasting twenty-six hours, burned 10,000 houses. In this same fire-scourged city, in 1791, between March and July, there were 32,000 houses burned, and about as many more in 1795; and in 1799 Pera was again swept with fire, with a loss of 13,000 houses, including many buildings of great magnificence.

In 1784 a fire and explosion in the dock yards, Brest, caused a loss of $5,000,000.

But the greatest destruction of life and property by conflagration, of which the world has anything like accurate records, must be looked for within the current century. Of these the following is a partial list of instances in which the loss of property amounted to $3,000,000 and upward:

   Dates--Cities: Property destroyed.
   1802--Liverpool: $5,000,000
   1803--Bombay: 3,000,600
   1805--St. Thomas: 30,000,000
   1808--Spanish Town: 7,500,000
   1812--Moscow, burned five days; 30,800 houses destroyed: 150,000,000
   1816--Constantinople, 12,000 dwellings, 3,000 shops: ----
   1820--Savannah: 4,000,000
   1822--Canton nearly destroyed: ----
   1828--Havana, 350 houses: ----
   1835--New York ("Great Fire"): 15,000,000
   1837--St. Johns, N. B.: 5,000,000
   1838--Charleston, 1,158 buildings: 3,000,000
   1841--Smyrna, 12,000 houses: ----
   1842--Hamburg, 4,219 buildings, 100 lives lost: 35,000,000
   1845--New York, 35 persons killed: 7,500,000
   1845--Pittsburgh, 1,100 buildings: 10,000,000
   1845--Quebec, May 28, 1,650 dwellings: 3,750,000
   1845--Quebec, June 28, 1,300 dwellings: ----
   1846--St. Johns, Newfoundland: 5,000,000
   1848--Constantinople, 2,500 buildings: 15,000,000
   1848--Albany, N. Y., 600 houses: 3,000,000
   1849--St. Louis: 3,000,000
   1851--St. Louis, 2,500 buildings: 11,000,000
   1851--St. Louis, 500 buildings: 3,000,000
   1851--San Francisco, May 4 and 5, many lives lost: 10,000,000
   1851--San Francisco, June: 3,000,000
   1852--Montreal, 1,200 buildings: 5,000,000
   1861--Mendoza destroyed by earthquake and fire, 10,000 lives lost: ----
   1862--St. Petersburg: 5,000,000
   1802--Troy, N. Y., nearly destroyed: ----
   1862--Valparaiso almost destroyed: ----
   1864--Novgorod, immense destruction of property: ----
   1865--Constantinople,  2,800 buildings burned: ----
   1806--Yokohama, nearly destroyed: ----
   1865--Carlstadt, Sweden, all consumed but Bishop's residence, hospital
         and jail; 10 lives lost: ----
   1866--Portland, Me., half the city: 11,000,000
   1866--Quebec, 2,500 dwellings, 17 churches: ----
   1870--Constantinople, Pera, suburb: 26,000,000
   1871--Chicago--250 lives lost, 17,430 buildings burned, on 2,124 acres:
   1871--Paris, fired by the Commune: 160,000,000
   1872--Boston: 75,000.000
   1873--Yeddo, 10,000 houses: ----
   1877--Pittsburgh, caused by riot: 3,260,000
   1877--St. Johns, N. B., 1,650 dwellings, 18 lives lost: 12,500,000

From the above it appears that the five greatest fires on record, reckoned by destruction of property, are:

      Chicago fire, of Oct. 8 and 9, 1871: $192,000,000
      Paris fires, of May, 1871: 160,000,000
      Moscow fire, of Sept. 14-19, 1812: 150,000,000
      Boston fire, Nov. 9-10, 1872: 75,000.000
      London fire, Sept. 2-6, 1666: 53,652,500
      Hamburg fire, May 5-7, 1842: 35,000,000

Taking into account, with the fires of Paris and Chicago, the great Wisconsin and Michigan forest fires of 1871, in which it is estimated that 1,000 human beings perished and property to the amount of over $3,000,000 was consumed, it is plain that in the annals of conflagrations that year stands forth in gloomy pre-eminence.

[Source: Burroughs' Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889]

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