1904 Baltimore Fire: 80 Blocks Burned And Lessons Learned

By | February 5, 2020

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Men hurry on the street as they work to demolish buildings during the Baltimore fire, 1904. The leveling of the buildings by dynamite was a desperate attempt to arrest the spread of the fire. (Photo by Herbert French/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Chicago doesn't have a monopoly on destructive, city-wide fires. On February 7, 1904, one such fire swept through 80 blocks of Baltimore, Maryland, leveling more than 1,500 buildings and damaging an additional 1,000 structures. Only the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was more destructive, but out of the ashes of the 1904 Baltimore Fire came some much-needed and potentially life-saving changes in how we fight fires. Let's look at the 1904 Baltimore Fire, its causes, the damage, and the improvements that came from this event. 

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Firefighters battling the 1904 Baltimore Fire. (fire.baltimorecity.gov)

Turn-Of-The-Century Cities Were Powder Kegs

American cities at the turn of the century were very different from modern cities. Buildings were constructed of wood and built in close proximity to each other, fire breaks weren't built into city planning, and building codes were either nonexistent or not enforced. Many streets and alleys were often crowded with cars, wagons, and discarded items, while others were just too narrow for fire trucks to squeeze through under even the best conditions. They were basically fire hazards that thousands of people lived in.