The Fire that Destroyed the Windy City

By Sanvitha V., 5th Grade

February 2017

Did you notice the weather in Colorado it is very dry, and houses and buildings are made out of wood? Why might it be a bad idea to build out of wood in a place which is dry? A long time ago in Chicago, Illinois in 1871, the Great Fire started because every building in the city was made out of wood. During that time, there was a drought. Because of the drought, O’Learys’ barn ( 137 De Koven Street ) caught on fire, so it spread throughout the city. First of all, the firemen were really unsuccessful controlling the fire, but some of their tries turned out to be a success. Since the citizens were frightened, lonely, and sad, most of them even tried to get out the city, so the fire couldn’t reach them. When the fire finally ended, people became homeless and had to rebuild Chicago.

Since the Chicago fire department failed to send accurate signals, the firemen went to the other side of the town; eventually, they had some success with firebreaks and asking other cities for help.   Schaffer was a watcher for fire and also the one responsible for sending signals to the engines.  Schaffer was fooled by seeing smoke which was from a previous fire, but it was actually a new fire.  He realized that it was actually a new fire. Then, he tried to find the location, but he sent the engines a mile away from O’Learys’ barn.  Another fire alarm operator named William Brown sent all the engines to wrong place, but this did not cause any harm. Luckily, the firefighters managed to go to the fire. Finally, James Hildreth got some success. Before the success, citizens were wondering why the firefighters were blowing-up houses and buildings. Then, they realized that they were making making a fire break that would surround the fire and stop it from spreading. They even put water in the firebreak. Chicago was in flames, so they had to telegram other cities that were close by for their fire department to help. The mayor of Milwaukee got a telegram saying “SEND YOUR WHOLE DEPARTMENTS TO HELP US.”After all the telegrams were sent, departments came from Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville, Detroit, Port Huron, Bloomington, Springfield, Janeville, Allegheny, and Pittsburgh.

Because the fire was so violent, Chicago’s citizens were out of control as they tried to escape, some were lost, others stole from their fellow citizens. During the rush of escaping the fire, a little girl fell down on the ground, and no one noticed her. Citizens ran like a stampede of bulls. Two girls found a body of another girl who was killed by a fallen building. People ran with their trunks without minding who they pushed down. In the stampede, children could not find their family. Claire Innes was one of those children that got lost. Like many other families, Claire’s family was trying to escape. While Claire’s family was in the stampede, Claire couldn’t find them. Then, she thought her family would be running with all of the other citizens. She kept looking for her family everywhere, but it was really difficult because of the rush of escaping the fire. Without her family, she felt very lonely and scared. Although many of the families were escaping, sometimes fellow citizens stole each other’s belongings. They stole supplies out broken wagons. The citizens didn’t help others when thieves stole belongings because they were in a hurry to escape the spreading fire.

When the rain ended the fire, many people either died or were homeless, so many jobs were created; sadly, the poor were blamed for the tragedy.  Because of the steady rain, the fire finally stopped spreading everywhere. The drought ended when the fire ended. The size of the Great Fire is from De Koven Street to Fullerton Ave. This was about ½ of the whole city of Chicago.  About 100,000 people were homeless. Citizens estimate that 300 people perished into flames. From all these people, only 120 bodies were found. Some human bodies were uncounted since they probably dropped down into the Chicago river.  This viral fire meant that jobs for carpenters and bricklayers were open. Carpenter jobs were open because there was a lot of buildings to rebuilt in Chicago. Bricklayers were also really important back then when the fire destroyed ½ of the “The Windy City”. Unskilled laborers were paid two dollars a day when bricklayers and carpenters got five through ten dollars a day. This was amazing money for them. With the salaries rising, the government and most people blamed this tragedy on the poor when it wasn’t. However, the fire started because of the weather and the wood structures, not because of the poor. The poor citizens were sad that approximately ¼ of the city was blaming them.

The firefighters tried to stop the great fire, but they couldn’t. As a result, citizens were panicking.  They stole from others as they fought their way to safety.  Also, many people were injured and some died. However, with all of the hard work from people, Chicago was rebuilt. A lot of people question why does some fire from 150 years ago matter to us. It matters because in Colorado structures are made out of wood and it is also dry. Do you ever wonder why it is dry? Right now, we have a global warming: our ozone layer has a hole which lets packs and packs of sunlight get through. Our citizens are trying to produce less pollution, so the ozone layer’s hole will not expand. Plus, there isn’t any ozone layer spray to repair the huge hole which is ten through fifteen kilometers above the Earth located in the stratosphere.  It’s important that we produce less pollution.  This will slow the global warming and there will be a smaller chance of having an extreme fire.

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