Historic fires that shook the world
Updated: Jan 7
Fire has been our consistent enemy for a long time. History has proved time and again how fires can cause massive destruction. Ironically, the biggest of fires have struck in the most developed and technologically advanced nations. Let us look at some of the world’s most historic fires:
1) Firecrackers are a dangerous source of fire, more so because they are uncontrollable. Even in an advanced city like Rhode Islands in the United States of America, the Station Nightclub fire (2003) was caused due to un-monitored pyrotechnics (firecrackers) that were set off during a show. The lack of an automatic fire sprinkler system proved to be fatal as from the 404 nightclub occupants that night, 100 were killed and 200 were injured. People were unaware of the various exit routes, and rushed towards the front door, creating a bottleneck and a stampede. This shows that even though a place is not overcrowded, lack of awareness of the fire exits and the drill to be followed in case of a fire incident can cause mayhem.
2) The prestigious MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas was no exception in falling prey to fire. The reputed hotel, located in what is now called Nevada, turned ablaze due to an electrically started fire. Though the finest materials were used in building it, they were combustible, which proved to be fatal. The burning PVC piping, wallpaper, and plastic mirrors created smoke and toxic fumes that were not extinguished as there was no automatic fire sprinkler system in the casino portion of the building. Openings allowed smoke to enter and fill exit stairwells, and doors locked people out of the building once they exited into these stairwells, all of which resulted in 87 fatalities and 700 injuries.
3) A fire that made Pope John XXIII send his condolences from the Vatican in Rome. The Our Lady of the Angels School fire in Chicago, Illinois marked to be revolutionary and led to major improvements in standards for fire safety codes. The 1958 fire led to 95 deaths – 93 of which were children. The fire began in a cardboard trashcan in a basement stairwell, and the wooden staircase went up in flames. It spread the fire throughout the second floor and into the attic, and blocking the escape route on the second floor. Due to combustible walls and ceilings, blocked exit routes, lack of automatic sprinklers and fire alarms and late reporting to the Fire Department, the fire could not be averted. The disaster shocked the nation and was the lead headline story in American, Canadian and European newspapers.
In all three scenarios, one thing remained common – lack of due importance to the risks involved with fire accidents. Even though these major fires took place in a well advanced, developed country, the fact remains that it is not possible to fight a fire without prior preparation/ knowledge on how to deal with fire when you are face to face with it. In these cases, there was not enough equipment to douse the fire. Also, the fire exits were not put to use – either due to them being blocked or due to lack of knowledge - which created a bottleneck the main exits. There must be a site map that marks all the exits for people to refer to. And even more important is to make sure that there is nothing obstructing these exits. And most importantly, there should be a fully functioning fire extinguisher present at strategic locations to combat the fire.