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The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

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The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

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  • October 1999
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The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was one of the largest disasters in American history. Practically overnight the great city of Chicago was destroyed. Before the fire there was a large drought causing everything to be dry and flammable, then a fire broke out in the O'Leary's barn and spread throughout the city. Many attempts were made to put out the fire but there were too many errors and problems in the beginning. After the fire many people were left homeless and had to help build their city again.

Before the fire broke out on Sunday night, October 8, 1871 there had been a large drought causing everything to be dry and extremely flammable. Many fires had been breaking out in Chicago. Records show that in 1870 the fire fighters went to nearly 600 fires. On Saturday night there had been a large fire that destroyed about four blocks and lasted for 16 hours. Another reason why everything in Chicago was so flammable was because almost the entire city was made out of wood. It was a lot worse in the middle class and poor sections of the town. (1, p.19) Just about every house was made out of wood. Even buildings that claimed to be fire proof had wood roofs covered with tar. The richer part of town had stone and brick homes, but wooden interiors, wooden stables, and wooden storage buildings. (2, p.81) Chicago was built on marshland and every time it rained the city flooded, so to help this problem the roads were made out of wood and elevated above the waterline. The day the fire started there were over 55 miles of pine-block street and 600 miles of wooden sidewalks. "Chicago in 1871 was a city ready to burn," according to Jim Murphy, author of The Great Fire. (1, p.18)

It was Sunday October 8th about 8:45pm, when Daniel "Peg Leg" Sullivan went to visit the O'Learys' house only to find out they were asleep. So Sullivan walked across the street to Thomas White's house and sat down to lean against the...