The Great Chicago Fire was a dark time in the city’s history, causing an estimated $200 million in property damage and hundreds of deaths. It was a significant tragedy, and it forced the city to rebuild from the ground up. How did the Chicago fire start, and when was it? We’re looking back on this terrible time for our great city. 

When Was the Chicago Fire? 

The Great Chicago Fire raged for two straight days in October 1871, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. The fire burned nearly 3.3 square miles of the city, killing over 300 people and leaving thousands more homeless. During that time, the Chicago fire department employed just under 200 firefighters to protect the city during emergencies, and with only 17 horse-drawn steam pumpers to work with, it took from October 8, 1871 to October 10th to fully extinguish the flames. 

How Did the Chicago Fire Start? 

While the exact cause for how the Chicago fire started is unknown, the leading theory leads back to a barn on DeKoven street where Mrs. O’Leary’s cow allegedly kicked over a lit lantern. It’s not the only theory though: some believed it was due to a gambling fight that broke up in the barn, while others pointed to existing midwest fires that migrated towards the city limits. 

Regardless of what started the Chicago fire, there were several factors that contributed to its unprecedented size and strength: 

  • Building materials: In 1871, nearly two-thirds of the city was built out of wood, from the buildings to the sidewalks and roads. 
  • Drought: In the months leading up to the Great Chicago Fire, the city had only seen one inch of rain, causing extremely dry conditions. 
  • Weather: Strong winds only stoked the flames’ power, blowing burning embers deeper into the city. 

Outcomes From the Great Chicago Fire 

The Great Chicago Fire taught the city some hard lessons that led to improvements during the rebuilding process. Stricter building codes were put into practice, pushing architects to use stronger materials than wood alone, and a more thoughtful approach to city planning was put into motion. The reconstruction efforts created much innovation and eventually revitalized the city, leading to the first skyscrapers in the Chicago skyline

Skydeck is Part of Chicago’s History

Skydeck is proud to be located in Chicago’s most iconic skyscraper, Willis Tower. We love celebrating the storied history of our city, and when you stand out on our ledge, you’ll get to see everything that makes Chicago great! Plan ahead for your next visit and get tickets online today!