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It’s Fire Prevention Week! Protect Your Family From Fire! Oct. 9 – 15

Posted on: October 10, 2011

October 9th marks the 140th anniversary of the famous Great Chicago Fire and the lesser known but actually more destructive Peshtigo fire, two of the most devastating fires in our country’s history. Legend has it that the Great Chicago Fire was started in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn, where an otherwise innocent milking cow knocked over a lamp and set the whole city on fire with a blaze that spread over 2,000 acres, destroyed 17,400 homes, killed 250 people and left another 100,000 homeless.

Since 1927, Fire Prevention Week has focused on specific themes of fire safety. This year, the theme of Fire Prevention Week is “Protect Your Family From Fire” and the NFPA’s website has tons of fire safety tips for families and everyone else interested in staying safe from fires.

This year’s fire prevention tips are basically what we’ve been saying all along: fire sprinklers, fire alarms and evacuation plans! According to their statistics:

  • Working, well maintained fire sprinklers reduce the risk of dying in a fire by 80%.
  • Fire sprinklers can completely extinguish a fire before the fire department arrives.
  • Smoke alarms cut the risk of death in half.
  • 2/3 of all fire deaths occur in homes or buildings with no working fire alarms. One fifth of all smoke alarm failures are due to dead batteries.
  • Hardwired fire alarms activated in response to fires 91% of the time, while battery powered smoke alarms operated only 75% of the time.

The History of Fire Prevention Week

Almost everyone has at least heard of the legend of Mrs. O’Leary and her cow. While the story (which actually ruined the poor old woman’s life) has been all but disproven, experts are pretty sure it started NEAR her barn, and new theories as to how the fire got started range from fairly boring (a few men gambling in the barn accidentally started the fire) to out of this world (flaming meteorites fell from the sky, setting fires in Chicago and as far as Michigan and Wisconsin).

However the fire started, there can be no doubt that it was beyond devastating, burning for two days straight. The worst part is that the Great Chicago Fire wasn’t the worst fire in history – it wasn’t even the worst that day!

On the same day that the Great Chicago Fire was started, Oct. 8, 1871, a group of railroad workers who were clearing land for a new set of tracks accidentally sparked a brush fire that spread “like a tornado” becoming the biggest known fire in American history. The Peshtigo fire, which swept through Northeast Wisconsin, leveled 16 towns, killed 1,152 people and turned 1.2 million acres to ash before it finally died down.

In addition to producing countless tales of heroism from the people who survived them, the Chicago and Peshtigo fires resulted in a paradigm shift in people’s thinking about fire safety. In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation and since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has commemorated the fires with an aim to prevent such devastating blazes from ever occurring again.

Fire Prevention Week has been themed since 1927 – Why this Mad Sacrifice to Fire? Other notable themes have included World War II propaganda (Today Every Fire Helps Hitler – 1944), to outlandishly accusatory (YOU caused 1,700,000 Fires Last Year! – 1947). This year’s theme is pretty standard and its goal is to help people who would have more trouble escaping from fires (the elderly or the mentally disabled). For more information about Fire Prevention Week, check out the NFPA’s website.

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