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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

Facts about the great Chicago fire of 1871.


CURWOOD: One hundred and twenty five years ago, on the evening of October 8, a company of fire fighters rushed to an alarm on the southwest side of Chicago. Fires were a fairly common occurrence throughout Chicago at the time, but this fire, at the O'Leary's cow barn, was unlike any in the city's history. It burned and spread for more than 24 hours until a lack of fuel and a rainstorm put it out. Nearly 300 people died in the fire. It also destroyed some 18,000 buildings, and left nearly 100,000 Chicagoans homeless. Because of the number of people affected and the city's prominence, the Great Chicago Fire is usually assumed to be the worst fire ever to hit the US. It wasn't. It wasn't even the worst fire on October 8th, 1871. Hundreds of miles north of Chicago in the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, a much bigger tragedy was occurring on that day. Peshtigo, a small lumber town, was surrounded by miles of bone-dry forest. A fire consumed the entire area. It killed more than 1,200 people, making it the deadliest fire in US history. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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