Ninety years ago, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the very first Fire Prevention Week in 1923. This year, Pinal Rural Fire District celebrates 90 years of fire prevention and life safety events in the United States.
Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began in the evening on Oct. 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage. This horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres of land.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 started in the barn behind the cottage of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary at 137 DeKoven St., on the south side of Chicago. Although the popular story is that a cow kicked over a lantern to start the fire, Michael Ahern, the Chicago Republican reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy. At the time of the fire, the street was in a less prosperous neighborhood of Chicago.
In the1990s, a team of forensic fire investigators recreated the neighborhood where the O’Leary’s lived. Their research provided information that a neighbor, Daniel Sullivan, was the last one in the barn that evening and was the likely cause of the fire. However, the investigators were not able to completely prove this hypothesis.
The Great Chicago Fire undoubtedly is the most famous fire in American history; however, it was the smallest of the many fires that burned on Oct. 8-10, 1871. On that very same night, some 250 miles north of Chicago, another inferno raged as well; this one in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Although widely eclipsed in history by the Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire proved even deadlier than its neighbor to the south, and in fact gained the infamous status of the deadliest fire in recorded history.
When the flames eventually died out, the damage of the Peshtigo Fire was staggering: The conflagration had consumed 1,875 square miles, obliterated 12 communities, and caused the deaths of between 1,500 and 2,500 people.
Fire Prevention Week is observed in the United States and Canada, during the week (from Sunday to Saturday) in which Oct. 9 falls. In the United States, the first Presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Week was made in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge.
The theme for Fire Prevention week this year is “Serve Up Safety in the Kitchen.”