Do you ever feel like these national week tributes are just randomly assigned to our year? Kind of like someone deciding we need to remember something and throws a dart at a wall calendar to see where it lands?
While that might be the case in some observances, there is some very significant history behind why this week is National Fire Prevention week.
The Main Event
It was the evening of October 8, 1871. What probably happened was a couple of people from a nearby party snuck into a woman’s barn to steal some milk from her cows and left a lit lantern behind that one of the cows managed to kick over.
Or maybe the people broke in so they could smoke a bit of pipe tobacco away from the press of the crowd and a hot ember dropped in the straw.
Although she was accused for the rest of her life, it probably was not Mrs. O’Leary herself who left the lantern behind.
But the Great Fire of Chicago seems to have started in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn. By the time it was put out, two days later, the fire had burned roughly one third of the city, including much of the downtown area. Tens of thousands of people became homeless overnight and about 300 people died in the fires.
Not the Main Event
That same day, another fire started in a place called Peshtigo, Wisconsin. That fire destroyed 16 entire communities and enough forest to cover 1 ½ times the state of Rhode Island. It was the deadliest fire in recorded history, with numbers in the thousands.
There were also fires in Michigan and Port Huron on that day.
Because of the coincidence of all these fires happening on the same day, there are even guesses that the fires were caused by meteorites. But researchers have determined the common factor was unsafe fire practices in an unusually dry year in combination with the perfect weather conditions to whip small fires into big ones very quickly.
Many people in the South have been understandably focused on Houston and the Texas coast recently, but there has also been major destruction by fire occurring in the U.S.’s Pacific Northwest. It will be a while before the total damage of this summer’s extensive fires can be calculated, partially because some of them are still burning.
While the fires are still causing extensive loss of property, we have become much better at protecting human life from the ravages of these kinds of fires. The reason for that is because of the establishment of this week of observation, National Fire Prevention Week, and its focus on education.
This year’s educational theme is to plan two ways out. Fire Facts offers a handy, printable family escape plan you can use to customize your own safety plan. You can make it a fun family event to practice the escape routes you’ve created.