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Great Chicago Fire
Chicago in Flames by Currier & Ives, 1871 (cropped).jpg
Artist's rendering of the fire, by Currier and Ives; the view faces northeast across the Randolph Street Bridge
Location Chicago, Illinois, United States
Cost $222 million (1871 USD)
(approx. $4.7 billion in 2020)
Date(s) October 8, 1871 (1871-10-08) – October 10, 1871 (1871-10-10)
Burned area 2,112 acres (8.55 km2)
Cause Unknown
Buildings destroyed 17,500 buildings
Deaths 300 (estimate)

The Great Chicago Fire was a large fire that started on Sunday October 8, 1871 in Chicago, Illinois, United States.

The second red star of the Chicago flag represents the fire.

How did it start

O'Leary and her cow

No one is sure what caused the fire. A legend says that it started when a cow knocked over a lantern in Catherine O'Leary's barn on DeKoven Street. The fire began in a neighborhood southwest of the city center. A long period of hot, dry, windy conditions, and the wooden construction of the buildings made the fire jump from place to place and also leapt the river.

When did it end and why

It burned until Tuesday October 10, 1871 when rain started to fall.

How much did it destroy

The fire destroyed 3.3 square miles (8.5 square kilometers) and $192,000,000 in property. About 100,000 people were left homeless. Three hundred people died. Because of a large fire the night before, firefighters were too tired to quickly put out these fires.

The oldest structure left standing in the area where the fire burned is the Couch family tomb. This stone tomb was built in 1858.

Not all of the city was destroyed. Important places like the Stock Yards, where animals were slaughtered, were not damaged. Neither was the railroad system.

Panorama of damage

Attributed to George N. Barnard


  • October 8, 1871 - A fire begins around 9:00 p.m. near a small farm on 137 DeKoven St.
  • October 9, 1871 - The fires continue burning.
  • October 10, 1871 - The fires are finally extinguished in the early morning hours. President Grant orders donations to be shipped into the city.
  • October 11, 1871 - A myth that the O’Leary cow caused the fire is circulated in the New-York Tribune. The city of Chicago is placed under martial law.
  • October 12, 1871 - Business is able to partially resume.
  • October 17, 1871 - Temporary residences are built, but 100,000 people remain homeless.
  • October 19, 1871 - A writer for the Nashville Union largely discredits the Catherine O’Leary story after an interview with her.
  • November 11, 1871 - The police and fire commissioner begin an investigation into Ms. O’Leary.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Gran incendio de Chicago para niños

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