Great Baltimore Fire of 1904

The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 destroyed over 1,500 buildings, burned more than 140 acres and crippled the city of Baltimore, Maryland; one of the largest cities on the east coast at that time, in a matter of not days or hours but in a matter of minutes. Turn of the century blazes such as the Great Baltimore Fire, often spread rapidly due to non-existent fireproofing materials, lack of building codes and firefighting standards, and the close proximity of buildings to one another.

The fire reportedly started in the John Hurst and Company building on German Street, during the mid morning hours of February 7, 1904 and quickly spread to neighboring buildings, blazing out of control in almost no time at all. At the time German Street was the heart of the business district in downtown Baltimore. The city immediately telegraphed other cities to dispatch their fire departments but in the end this was to no avail because at the time there was no firefighting standards and each city used its own uniquely designed hose couplings. None of the responding cities, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New York City or Washington DC has hose couplings that would fit Baltimore’s hydrants. Firefighters stood by helpless to fight the rapidly expanding fire.

The fire blazed out of control all day and into the night and the next morning of February 8th. It took 72 fire companies 36 hours to put the fire out. Volunteers performed most of the cleanup of the debris that littered the city. The fire itself caused $150 million dollars in damage but miraculously only one life was lost as a result of the fire. The Baltimore Sun reported that a man’s charred remains were pulled from the US Constellation, a naval ship that today sits in the bay at the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore rebuilt itself rapidly after the fire and most buildings were rebuilt using fireproof materials. The city rebuilt its portion of damaged building by selling its Western Railroad stock but private business owners and homeowners found it hard to rebuild as most businesses and private residences were insured for only replacement value, which was commonplace at the turn of the century. Today few scars remain of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

As tragic as this fire was it has played a beneficial part in history. Firefighters and the United States Government learned from the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. First and most importantly, the US government came to the realization that most cities didn’t have lifesavings emergency plans and procedures put into place. The aftermath of the Great Baltimore Fire also helped to mandate the standardization of firefighting equipment across the United States to prevent other catastrophic fires of this caliber.