It Is National Fire Prevention Week

National Fire Prevention Week begins October 8th this year.  Fires KILL.. and remembering to take the necessary precautions to avoid a fire is something we all MUST do.

Fire Prevention Week has been running since 1922, and was stated in America under President Calvin Coolidge. Fire Prevention week runs from the Sunday through to the Saturday period in which October 9 falls, in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which started on the 8th of October 8, 1871, and most of the damage occurred on October 9th.

The Chicago fire killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroying over 17,400 buildings and covering over 2,000 acres.

Legend would have it that the fire began in a barn belonging to Mrs. Catherine O’Leary after a cow kicked over a kerosene lantern.  This set the barn on property of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary at 137 Dekoven Street on fire which spread to the whole city.  You likely have heard the story and Mrs. O’Leary at the time denied this charge, recent research by a Chicago historian, Robert Cromie, has helped to debunk this popular myth.

However, there is likely some truth to the story.  Fact is that the fire very likely started somewhere near the barn where Mrs. O’Leary kept her five milking cows.   There remains however no proof that the fire actually started in the barn, that there was any lantern and that it was set by a cow.  In fact Mrs. O’Leary stated she had been in bed long before the fire began, and the cows were all bedded down for the evening.  The story actually began when a Chicago Tribune reporter by the name of Michael Ahern actually published an article which stated the fire had started when a cow kicked over a lantern when being milked, Ahern did admit 20 years later that he had made the story up.

But the fire did happen, and there was a lot of damage, injury and death.  If the cow did not start the fire what and who did?  There are many theories from neighbourhood boys with cigarettes to nasty neighbours to a fiery meteorite.. in fact several fires started on October 8th across Michigan, Wisconsin and of course the Chicago fire in Illinois.

In fact the Chicago fire was not the biggest fire that day, the one in Peshtigo, Wisconsin was the most devastating forest fire in American history.  It however drew little attention outside of the local area due to the attention drawn by the Great Chicago Fire.  The Peshtigo Fire, also starting on October 8th, 1871, burned across Northeast Wisconsin, destroying 16 towns, killing 1,152 people, and leaving waste to 1.2 million acres of forest before it ended.  That fire historians say began when railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire, quickly moving through the area ‘like a tornado’.  The small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin suffered the worst damage, being completely destroyed in less than an hour.  . Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.

Now almost 150 years after the Chicago fire and 95 years after National Fire Prevention week began we still remember.  Both of those fires produced countless tales of bravery and heroism. But those fires also changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.

It was the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire it was decided the fire would be remembered in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.  Now almost 150 years after the fire we have much better communication as well as better knowledge of how fires start, how they burn and more importantly how to prevent and survive them.

It was actually in 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922 under President Calvin Coolidge it was set to be observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. It has been observed each year since.

Now for your own Fire Prevention Week video – know 2 ways out!

Author: Chimney Sweep

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