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The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

AR Stats

Reading Quizzes

  • (R) Recommended
  • Short reading time- 3 hrs 
  • (L) Language

Did They Really Read the Book?


conflagration (noun)   --an extensive fire which destroys a great deal of land or property.

  • Background: 

    • The Chicago fire occurred over a 3 day period Oct 8-10, 1871
    • Nearly 100K people were made homeless (The Army set up 50K tents to support)
    • 120 human remains recovered, 300 presumed cremated

  • Plot details:

    • Chicago had previously suffered from an enduring drought and was bone dry
    • "The city was meant to burn"
      • build of wood structures, wooden sidewalks, wooden pathways, with wooden architectural ornamentation, and tar roofing material
    • The Great Fire started in the barn of the O'Leary Family and spread immediately
      • cause speculated, but unknown
    • Missteps throughout the emergency response AND failed checks/balances gave time to the fire
      • weary citizens and responders dismissed the call to sound alarms for the Great Fire because they assumed it was the previous night's fire still smoldering
      • delayed 1st and 2nd official alarms due to human error
        • inaccurate account of fire location
    • Reshaped Architectural design and preferred material-choice
      • Complete ban on wood in the city
      • Introduction to Steel

    Final Notes

    This historical non-fiction reads at the 7th grade level- one instance of the word d@mn, (used in an account to describe the fire). 
    It offers a glimpse of disparate social class-structures, the finer points of city planning, interesting aspects of fire science, and an example of how we rationalize collective failures by placing blame in the wake of a disaster. 

     If you have younger kids with an interest in the historical account of the Chicago Fire, the I Survived series is always riveting (review coming soon).

    Extra Resources

    National Geographic has article other historical details and the  Chicago History Museum wrote a short piece on the beloved Fire Chief that perished in the Great Fire.



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