Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.
Cities on Fire
Rome. Boston. London. Chicago. San Francisco. Tokyo.
What do all of these cities have in common? They have all been the locations of massive and devastating fires. And one of the largest of them all was the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Causes of the Great Fire of London
The easiest way to state the cause of the Great Fire of London is to blame Thomas Farynor and his family and servants. Farynor owned a bakery in Pudding Lane (near London Bridge), and a fire started in the bakery sometime between midnight and 2 a.m. on September 2, 1666. The rest, as they say, is history. So we can, in a way, blame him and his family for 'starting the fire', albeit by accident.
Of course, Farynor and his family and employees are not totally to blame. In 1666, London was a tinderbox waiting to ignite. There had been centuries of improper construction, regulation, and enforcement of laws regarding the types of buildings that could be built, how they could be built, and where they could be built. In short, London at the time was a confusing and congested maze of highly flammable wood and tar buildings.
On top of that, the summer of 1666 had been especially hot, dry, and long. That only made it that much easier for a fire to start and spread. It also depleted water reserves that might have been used to help put out the fire, although no real system of fire prevention nor fire extinguishment existed back then. London relied on volunteers and crude firefighting techniques, such as bucket chains or basically useless primitive fire engines. The only other option to try and contain the spread of a fire was to literally use a big hook to pull down buildings one by one, thereby creating a perimeter around the fire to hopefully prevent its spread.
When the fire first started, some of London's leaders simply didn't believe that it was anything to worry about. And as the fire spread, chaos made things worse. The streets were clogged with people carting their goods out of the city or throwing them into the Thames River in a last-ditch bid to save them from the blaze. Those fighting the fire had trouble getting through to the blaze as a result.
Furthermore, massive protestations from people who didn't want their houses pulled down led to a critical delay in containing the fire. This allowed a roaring wind to spread the fire without much pushback from London authorities.
Ultimately, many factors led to the start and eventual spread of the fire.
Facts and Aftermath
The blaze was finally extinguished on September 6, thanks in part to the wholesale blasting of buildings using gunpowder to create a perimeter around the blaze. Diminished winds also played a large part in stopping the spread of the fire, as well.
By the time everything was settled, 80% of London had burned down - 436 acres, according to official surveys shortly after the fire. Officially, only six people died in the fire, but this is likely a gross underestimation. London's many poor people were never recorded by authorities, especially those who were not born there, and their fates likely were not counted. Another problem is that because the fire burned so hot (2282 degrees Fahrenheit), there would've been few traces left of any victims. The fire's temperature was far higher than even that of a crematorium.
In the end, roughly 13,500 houses, 87 churches, 44 company halls, and St. Paul's Cathedral were destroyed. As were numerous cool historic places, like the bar where Shakespeare used to hang out. Add on top of that about 100,000 homeless people and the modern equivalent of $1.6 billion (USD) in damage, and you can now understand why it was called the 'Great Fire of London'.
Over the subsequent months, many people died as a result of disease, starvation, or exposure to winter conditions while staying in refugee camps. Lawsuits pertaining to the fire or its consequences raged on for six years. Londoners blamed the French, Dutch, and Catholics in general for starting and spreading the fire. Many foreigners were beaten, killed, and had their shops looted or destroyed in the chaos of the fire and its aftermath.
A government investigation launched soon after the fire concluded that an 'act of God' started the fire and that foreigners were not to blame. However, a French (albeit Protestant) watchmaker confessed to starting the fire in a wild conspiracy. No one believed him, but he was executed anyway.
The Great Fire Of London began when bakery owner Thomas Farynor didn't extinguish his oven in a proper manner. But while he lit the spark, he wasn't the sole cause of the fire in 1666. Improper building codes and the nature of building materials at the time (wood and tar) certainly helped the fire along, as did the long and dry summer and the fact that no good system of fire containment existed at the time.
The Great Fire of London:
- Destroyed 80% of the city
- Officially killed only six people, although that's probably an understatement
- Burned at about 2282 degrees Fahreinheit at its peak
- Destroyed about 13,500 homes
- Burned down 87 churches and St. Paul's Cathedral
- Produced the modern equivalent of $1.6 billion in damage
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