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Four Fires That Changed American History

For as long as humanity can remember, fire has been an awe-inspiring, mysterious and fearsome force in our lives, capable of either sustaining our food and fuel or destroying an entire city.

A while ago, our public insurance adjusters in Philadelphia shared advice on how to prevent house fires, which hopefully spurred a few of our readers to greater disaster preparedness. Today, however, we’ll learn about four major fires from American history, all of which go to show the devastation that can occur when fire safety goes unenforced.

All of these events are from at least half a century ago, demonstrating how far we’ve come in regulating fire safety. But they still serve as cautionary tales to property owners everywhere.

San Francisco Earthquake—That’s right, the worst fire in American history was set off by a 7.8 earthquake. On April 18, 1906, the quake hit just off the Northern California coast, leading to the destruction of virtually the entire city. The earthquake itself was not responsible for most of the damage—instead, ruptured gas mains led to devastating flames that quickly engulfed the city, causing more than 3,000 casualties, $250 million in claims and the destruction of priceless landmarks.

Peshtigo Fire—Curiously enough, the Peshtigo Fire took place on the same day as the infamous Great Chicago Fire, and while it led to as many as five times more fatalities, it barely shows up in the history books. Beginning innocuously as routine land-clearing fires, a cold front quickly fanned the flames into a firestorm that eventually consumed nearly 1,900 square miles of wilderness and residential areas.

Iroquois Theatre Fire—Much like the Titanic was designed to be “unsinkable,” various advertisements advertised the brand-new Iroquois as “absolutely fireproof.” On December 30, 1903, however, that label proved tragically false. Over 600 theatergoers perished after a broken arc light ignited the stage curtains. It was found that there were insufficient exits, no sprinklers and inadequate fire extinguishers in the building.

Cocoanut Grove Fire—On November 28, 1942, 492 people were killed at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Bay Village, after the club’s highly flammable, tropical-themed decorations ignited. The accident horrified the nation, and led to an extensive investigation that resulted in banning flammable decorations, inward-swinging doors and bolted emergency exits. Also banned? The name “Cocoanut Grove” for any nightclub in Boston.

We urge you to stay fire-safe in any situation, public or residential. But should your home suffer fire damage, don’t delay in contacting a claims adjuster in Philadelphia to help you earn back your insurance settlement.

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