October: Fire Prevention Month

Fire Prevention Week is October 6-12, 2013; so it’s time this month to get fired up about Fire Safety!  Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; the conflagration that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. The fire began on October 8, but continued into and did most of its damage on October 9, 1871

It is popular misconception that Mrs. Catherine O’Leary’s cow “Daisey” started the Great Chicago Fire by kicking over a lantern.  After more than 130 years, there is still speculation on what did cause the fire, but it most certainly was not the cranky “Daisey”.  Some people have speculated that a fiery meteorite may have fallen to earth on October 8, starting several fires that day – in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Chicago.

As bad as it was, the Great Chicago Fire was not the worst inferno to occur on those two tragic days of October 1871.  That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire; the most devastating forest fire in American History according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).  Occurring also on October 8, 1871, the Peshtigo Fire blazed through Northeast Wisconsin burning down 16 towns, killing 1,152 people and blazing 1.2 million acres before it ended.  Historical accounts state that the roaring fire began when several railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire. Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area ‘like a tornado,’ some survivors said. It was the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin that suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed.

Those who survived the Chicago and Peshtigo fires never forgot what they experienced.  Both blazes produced countless tales of bravery and heroism.  The fires also changed the way that firefighters and public officials think about fire safety.  In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation, and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday period in which October 9 falls. According to the National Archives & Records Administration’s Library Information Center, Fire Prevention Week is the longest running public health and safety observance in the United States on record. The President of the United States has signed a proclamation proclaiming a national observance during that week every year since 1925.

Please take time during this month to talk to your co-workers, colleagues, and families about what we can all do to prevent fires.  For more information, visit http://www.nfpa.org/itemDetail.asp?categoryID=1439&itemID=34426&URL=Safety%20Information/Fire%20Prevention%20Week/About%20Fire%20Prevention%20Week&cookie%5Ftest=1.