Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Great Fire, 344 Years from Conflagration

344 years ago today (actually from the start of the fire on September 2 right on into September 6) , the Great Fire of London literally ate nearly all of the medieval city built within the Roman walls.  It changed the face of the Great City forever.   It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities.

It is estimated that it destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City's 80,000 inhabitants.  The fire started in a bakery, and spread quickly due to the tragic indecisiveness of the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Bloodworth.  The main firefighting method of the day was to create firebreaks by pulling down buildings to create open spaces.  The Mayor's waffling on this measure led to a firestorm, and the winds that fanned the flames drive them on relentlessly for over three days  .  The fire was finally stopped with a shift in wind direction and the clever use of gunpowder by the guards at the Tower to stop the fire – by creating firebreaks.  

Many cities have experienced catastrophic fires –= Chicago (Mrs. O’Leary’s cow), San Francisco 

(in the wake of the 1906 earthquake, which broke most water lines, rendering fire companies impotent – a potential which the fire chief had been warning city leaders about vehemently.  Jack London wrote that no modern city had ever been so destroyed,  “San Francisco is gone”, he wrote), Seattle in 1889 (started when a worker in a cabinet shop was heating glue over a fire and it bubbled over into the fire.  Flame reached turpentine stores in the shop in seconds and then water only made the spreading of flames happen faster. Above the cabinet ship was a paint shop and a newspaper print shop, when the entire business district, from the waters of Elliott Bay, to some grand homes on Capitol Hill went up in a day) – Even my good friend Derek’s own Northampton saw itself three-quarters destroyed by a city fire that raged through the city in 11675. 

I suppose that what is truly amazing to me is that in every one of these cases, the city rebuilt and again experienced growth.  Oh, there were worse fires (Tokyo, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to name a few)   in time of war, but as we saw with New Orleans post-Katrina, the urge is strong to rebuild after these great destructive forces swept away everything people had.  Amazing resiliency, shown throughout history, independent of nation,  


1 comment:

Derek Andrews said...

Or is that a forecast of a Northampton fire in 9,665 years time !!!

Should I leave the news in a time-capsule for those who come after me?

Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
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