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7 Worst Fires in History of the World


With today’s heat resistant and fire prevention technology, a better understanding of what causes fires to spread the number of deadly fires is now less than it has ever been. There is still room for improvement and constant vigilance is needed to prevent fires in the home and the workplace. There is good reason for every safety procedure and protocol put in place. Most are preventative, others are based more in lessons learned from fires and accidents in the past.

Over the years, there have been a few famous fires that have stood out as particularly destructive and at great cost to life. Thankfully, many of the worst fires in history took place a long time ago. The lessons have been learned about preventing anything from them happening ever again.

These are the seven worst fires in history:

1. San Francisco, USA 1906 – 3,000 deaths

Chadwick, H. D. // Wikimedia Commons

Leaving over 3,000 people dead, the fire of San Francisco was particularly brutal. In the early hours of April 18th that year, the fire spread throughout the city quickly. Buildings were destroyed with dynamite by the fire department in an effort to create a firebreak. It is speculated that these demolitions accounted for almost half of the 25,000 buildings that were reduced to rubble during the fire.

2. Tokyo, Japan 1923 – 140,000 deaths

Wikimedia Commons

Following an earthquake in 1923, Tokyo was levelled by a fire that swept through the already damaged city. The estimated death toll is as high as 140,000 or more. To make matters worse, a Tsunami caused by the earthquake caused even more damage. With so many casualties, this was easily one of the worst fires in history with many famous deaths.

3. Chicago, USA 1871 – 300 deaths

Adam Jones // Wikimedia Commons

This fire destroyed more than 16,000 buildings and made almost 100,000 people homeless. The saving grace is that it spread slowly enough for a lot of people to get away unscathed. Less than 300 people died in the fire, although it is estimated that more dies of the cold in the harsh winter temperatures common in the midwest United States.

There are rumours as to how the fire started. The reports that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern proved to be made up by a reporter. While it does make for a colourful headline, the true cause of the fire is unknown.

4. London, England 1212 – 3000 deaths

Yale Center for British Art // Wikimedia Commons

This fire in London is not to be confused with the much more famous 1666 fire of London. This fire in 1212 was far more deadly than the one that took place 400 years later. Over 3,000 people were killed in this fire.

Most of them were killed as they stood on London Bridge. The Bride was made out of wood back then and it went up in flames very rapidly. This was due to it being made out of wood. To make matters worse, this bridge was waterproofed with tar. Which is very flammable indeed.

5. London, England 1666 – 6 deaths

Ben Sutherland // Flickr

The capital of England has burned many times over the centuries. This fire in 1666 was caused by a baker’s maid forgetting to put out the flames in the baker’s oven. It turned the city of London into a blazing inferno. The wooden construction of the city made this an accident waiting to happen. What is fascinating about this fire, is that considering how widespread it was and the population of London at the time, only 6 people were killed during the blaze.

The fire had a surprising benefit for all of London and England as a whole. The fire was at its worst in the poorest areas of London during a particularly nasty outbreak of the bubonic plague. This fire effectively cleansed the area. Once the fire had subsided the area was ready to be built on again.

6. Boston, USA 1872

Joshua Smith // Wikimedia Commons

In terms of property damage alone, the Boston fire of 1872 has proven to be the most expensive in North America’s history. This was because the damage done took place mostly in the city’s downtown. Many businesses were completely destroyed along with all of their inventory. Many people lost their jobs as a result of the companies that they worked in being completely eradicated by the fire.

The fire was allowed to spread more than it would have due to low water pressure and some problems with the fire hydrant couplings. Over 60 acres of Boston was completely destroyed in a matter of hours. It is often recognized as one of the worst fires in American history.

7. Rome 64 A.D.

Hubert Robert // Wikimedia Commons

This is going back in time a considerable way and you can only imagine how bad a fire would have to be for it to still be of note over 2,000 years later. The fire is said to have burned for almost a week. Leaving two-thirds of the city of Rome completely destroyed. There is a theory that emperor Nero ordered the city to be put to the torch. Although that could be propaganda spread after his death to discredit him after his death.